If you have to leave your dog alone at home, make sure he or she has the appropriate amount of exercise before being left each day
. Mentally stimulating activities like clicker, tricks or scent discrimination training
help tire a dog out before being left. A relaxing walk
with the opportunity to sniff
and do their business will help. Feeding breakfast from a food dispensing toy like a Kong
™ filled with frozen raw food
or a ball or toy that dispenses kibble when played with gives the dog an activity. Arranging for a friend or dog walker
to come to your house and take your dog out while you are away will break up the day. If your dog doesn’t do well on his own, sometimes leaving them with a canine or feline friend takes away the loneliness
. If you have to be away for extended periods of time, and a friend or walker isn’t available, then a dog daycare
may be in order (do your research though before leaving your dog as daycares vary).
Some dogs, however, become extremely distressed
when left on their own. “Separation anxiety
” is an umbrella term for a condition where dogs become distressed when left alone or distressed when separated from an individual they are attached to. These dogs have the equivalent of panic attacks
when their fear at being left alone builds.
Fortunately, true separation anxiety is highly treatable!
If separation anxiety is suspected, a diagnosis is needed. Sometimes people suspect their dog has separation anxiety, when in fact the dog is under-exercised and bored. Some dogs may have an underlying medical condition and need veterinary attention.
The dog who truly has separation anxiety appears terrified when alone and often starts to show signs of extreme anxiety while owners are preparing to leave. He may become very restless, his pupils dilate, he may salivate excessively, he pants and, when alone, he may urinate and /or defecate and often barks, howls or whines. The dog may chew through doors and windows in an effort to reunite himself with others and injure himself in the process. Other dogs mutilate themselves if crated while alone.
There are several factors that can contribute to the development of separation distress. Some have been left for very long periods of time on their own when they were very young, some may have experienced the loss of another dog in the household or have been rehomed or/and have experienced drastic changes in their routine. Breed can play a part too. Studies have shown that dogs who are of a breed which has been developed to work closely with people are more likely to develop the condition.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember that this is a dog who is having a problem and is distressed when alone
. This dog is not damaging the house, or themselves nor urinating and defecating because they are “mad at” the owner for being left a lone. Rather, these dogs are terrified and have little or no control over their behavior
While working with the dog to resolve separation distress the dog cannot be left alone initially so owners need to be prepared for a time commitment. Dogs need also to have an area they feel safe. Trainer and author Nicole Wilde refers to the safe area as the “alone zone”.
In addition, using natural anti-anxiety products like herbal remedies, homeopathic remedies and DAP™ (“Dog Appeasing Pheromone) dispensers or an anti-anxiety medication (through your veterinarian and used along with the behavior modification program) can help these dogs learn to relax when alone.
Try not to overwhelm the dog, and be patient getting through separation anxiety as it can take time.
As Applied Animal Behaviorist Dr. Patricia B. McConnell states in her booklet I’ll be Home Soon: “There’s no question that dogs can have strong emotions, and that some dogs behave as though they are in a state of terror when their owners leave.”
If you suspect your dog has separation anxiety, contact a qualified professional to help you help your dog through this condition.