Separation anxiety is one of the most common issues we are called in to deal with. It is usually something that we inadvertently reinforce, because often we are giving our dogs mixed messages.
Signs that your dog is stressed when you are gone can include one or many of the following:
Pacing tracks in the yard ( particularly near fence lines)
Barking, whining, howling
Hyper excitement when the family returns home (sometimes even urinating)
Self traumatising, chewing or licking feet or skin
Defecating & urinating inside
Your dog follows you around the house the entire time you are home
So, how do we fix the problem of our dogs panicking and stressing when we leave them alone? Follow these 5 simple guidelines for a more stress free dog.
1. We ensure we make it none of their concern when people come and go.
Ignore your dog (no eye contact, physical contact or verbal contact) for at least 5 minutes, by then your dog should be calm and will not relate your attention to people arriving home. No “Hellos & Goodbyes” is a great first step to having your dog understand that people will come and go, it is nothing to get hyped or stressed about.
2. Exhaust your dog before you leave him.
Take your dog for a good walk or run, play fetch in the back yard, or hide and seek in the home to get rid of that pent up energy. A tired dog is less likely to look for trouble.
3. Establish & maintain good leadership relationship with your dog.
Have your dog “earn” your attention, and his food through fun command training sessions. Teach your dog to walk nicely on lead, and return to you off lead. Have an “invites only” rule for games and cuddles. Ignore demanding behaviour and offer alternative rewarded behaviours, ie ignore a jumping up dog, as soon as he settles and sits, reward that.
4. Train & play with your dog in areas of high stress
If there is a fence line your dog is pacing at, take him out there when all is quiet, and play fetch, or tug games, or have a quick command session. This will change the area from one of stress and anxiety, to one of fun and leadership.
5. Set up a stimulating and challenging “enclosure” for your dog when you are preparing to leave. Scatter his food over the back yard. Wrap his breakfast in layers of newspaper, or get him working his food out of a kong or treat ball. Hide jerky sticks in old destuffed toys, rawhide cigars can be smothered with peanut butter and hidden fro him to sniff out. Get a sandpit and bury yummy treats or balls for him to find.
These 5 steps will take a bit of time and energy, so set yourself up with a plan. Get up earlier in the morning or change around your routine to accommodate the extra time it will take to implement these changes.