Handling Separation Anxiety as a Pet Parent
Separation anxiety is a very common trait that new pet parents have to tackle when first bringing a dog home. It can be exhibited by destructive behavior, barking, trying to escape the home, or other undesired behaviors while alone in the home. If you’ve recently brought a new fur baby home, it may be possible that your dog could also develop separation anxiety as we transition from a pandemic-centric lifestyle to a somewhat more normal world.
We know how disruptive separation anxiety can be to any home, so we have compiled a list of useful coping techniques that you may be able to implement at home!
Counterconditioning Separation Anxiety
If your dog is exhibiting stressed behavior while you are away, consistently providing them with high-value rewards that take 20-30 minutes to eat can help train them that your absence is actually a good association. A great treat to try is peanut butter, low-fat cream cheese, or canned wet dog food inside of a Kong toy. A bone or other treat that might take a while to eat is also an option.
Simply provide your fur baby with the treat each time you leave the house. Practice in 10 minute increments to start, and increase the length of time for a few practice runs. As soon as you return each time, retrieve the treat and store it away. Give your dog lots of love each time you return and wait for them to calm down completely before you leave for a practice run again.
The goal of this technique is to associate you being out of the house with good feeling and reward. Maintaining this routine should help reduce your pets anxiety over time.
After a while you can feed your dog all of his daily meals in special toys. For example, you can give your dog a KONG or two stuffed with his breakfast and some tasty treats every morning before going to work. Keep in mind, though, that this approach will only work for mild cases of separation anxiety because highly anxious dogs usually won’t eat when their guardians aren’t home.
A Helping Hand
Just because a dog is anxious when you aren’t home doesn’t mean it needs to be YOU that sticks around. If you have a spouse, parent, or friend that can come by and check in on your fur baby while you are gone it may help with separation anxiety – especially early on in a new environment or schedule. If there are no options for someone to come check on your pup, sometimes a doggy daycare option may be a good interim solution.
Exercise Your Dog
Providing lots of physical and mental stimulation is a vital part of treating many behavior problems, especially those involving anxiety. Exercising your dog’s mind and body can greatly enrich his life, decrease stress and provide appropriate outlets for normal dog behaviors. Additionally, a physically and mentally tired dog doesn’t have much excess energy to expend when he’s left alone.
Crate training can be very useful. It can teach dogs that their crate is a “safe space” to go when they are alone. But for some, the confined space may cause more anxiety. To see if crate training is best for your pup, try some test runs at home! Get your pup into their crate with blankets and treats, and stay in the room with them to see what kind of behavior they exhibit. If they seem fairly normal try leaving the room and monitor them again. If they respond with the same anxious behavior regularly, then they might not be a great fit for crate training.
Do not scold or discipline your pet for the behavior. Anxious behaviors are not the result of disobedience or spite. They are distress responses! Your dog displays anxious behaviors when left alone because he’s upset and trying to cope with a great deal of stress. If you punish him, he may become even more upset and the problem could get much worse.
Talk To Your Vet
There are medications available to help stem anxious behavior in pups. Talking to your vet about different options and treatments may open some new doors for you.