Separation anxiety in dogs can come in mild to severe cases. Symptoms for more serious versions of the condition can include excessive salivation, barking or howling, and destroying furniture and rooms, but even dogs with mild separation anxiety need support from their humans adjusting to alone time. Here are some tips that will make it easier to leave the house without feeling guilty.
First, it is a good idea to take your dog in for a check-up. If your dog is feeling physically unwell, their illness could manifest in similar symptoms that come from separation anxiety. Your veterinarian can rule out illness and disease through a wellness exam and blood work. If it is deemed to be separation anxiety, your vet will also be able to discuss options with you regarding anti-anxiety medications that may help your dog remain calm when they are at home alone.
Back home, take note of your routine when leaving the house. It might not even be something you notice—grabbing your keys, purse, and throwing on your shoes surely come as second nature—but dogs are very perceptive. They will notice when your departure routine is beginning, and the anticipation alone can be very stressful. There are two ways you can deal with this. You could normalize behaviors that are part of the routine by repeating them throughout the day and then not leaving the house.
Over time, the actions that are part of your routine will no longer trigger the same anxiety in your pup as they did when they were directly connected to you departing. Another option is to adjust your routine. For instance, rather than getting your backpack or purse ready right before you leave, pack it the night before.
Adjusting your dog to alone time should be done incrementally. Like picking up your keys over and over, it takes repetition and patience. Before you leave, scatter a few treats or fill up a puzzle toy with them. As your dog is occupied with the treats or the toy, leave and shut the door behind you, but come back in just a few seconds. (If you are worried about your dog when you are leaving the house, you can set up a home security camera connected to WiFi so you can monitor them with a live stream on your phone.)
When you return, act casually. Don’t make a big deal of greeting them. Next time you leave, extend the time you are gone by a small amount and keep repeating the training until you are able to leave for a few hours at a time.
Once you are able to leave the house without generating too much anxiety in your dog, it’s still a good idea to leave them something to do so their alone time is not too boring. Along with the aforementioned puzzle toys that you can stuff with treats, you could switch on a TV, play some classical music, or even queue up a podcast created specifically for dogs who are left home alone.
You can even get them to rest through large portions of their alone time by getting them ample exercise before you leave. Make sure they have a nice spot to cozy up where they can relax after you’ve left. Sometimes, a smaller room or space will make them feel more secure. While most dog owners will always ask for a room with a view, note that it might not be best for their dogs at home alone, since the stimuli from outside may rile them up.
Curing your pup’s anxiety may seem like a battle at first, but dealing with it head-on will save you both a mountain of stress for years to come. Try a few of these suggestions and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.