Many dogs struggle with some degree of separation anxiety. When a dog is in a state of panic and stress, they are suffering and in mental pain. It is our obligation as dog owners to be advocate for their physical as well as mental well being as well. Most times it can be reversed or eliminated with a few simple tweaks to how we are interacting with our dogs when we leave the house or are coming home. These are a few tips on how we go about ensuring our dog is as calm as possible in our absence.
It is important to not make a big deal out of leaving. Giving a big long hug and reassuring our dog that we will be back soon does nothing but create a contrast that something big or exciting is about to happen. The last thing that we want when we are leaving the home.
Begin your process of leaving 20-30 minutes before you exit the house. Eliminate all interaction with the dog to prep them for your absence. Grab your keys, put your shoes on, and go about your routine as normal while ignoring the dog. Crate your dog up or leave them where you intend them to be when you leave. When you leave the house, just leave!
When returning to your home, keep your energy calm! Come in, get your dog, take them outside to potty, and let them exist for 10-15 minutes before giving any sort of physical or emotional attention. Instill no touch, talk, or eye contact until the dog is in a calm state of mind. I understand that we are excited to see our dog but coming in home with lots of high energy and baby talk does nothing but adrenalize the dog.
It is important to understand that if your dog has more extreme cases of separation anxiety further steps may need to be taken. Here are a few more tips on things to do to eliminate anxiety and get your dog in a much more healthy state of mind.
Though it is not the fix all for separation anxiety, Getting your dog properly excersized can help make it easier for your dog to remain calm in your absence. Getting out for a quick session of ball or tug can help to get your dog in the right gear before you leave. Treadmill training is also a great option for those who may not have the space or time to walk their dog as much as they would like.
Practice Out of Sight Duration work:
Working on down stays or bed stays while you leave the room is beneficial for teaching the dog to stay calm in your absence. This is our version of controlled forced separation. This blocks unhealthy habits of pacing the room, following you like a shadow, or any of the other symptoms of separation anxiety. We want our dog to learn to coexist without always needing to be right next to us.
Avoid Conditioned Excitement:
Lots of owners unintentionally will create patterns of excitement through their words or body language. Common words or phrases like “do you want to go for a walk?”, “I’ll see you soon!”, or “Dinner time!” become conditioned through repetition of saying them in exciting situations. This does nothing but cause unintentional adrenaline. This is the same concept as your patterns when you leave the house. Slowing down all these other situations will bleed over into all other situations where your dog struggles with impulse control.
Correct The Anxiety:
It is a common misconception that you can not correct separation anxiety. We have found this to be untrue and actually found it to be one of the beneficial ways to tackle the issue. If you can stop the sequence of escalation in the dogs state of mind (Barking, whining, or any other destructive behaviors we see due to the anxiety) it can help to dramatically reduce the stress levels. Bark collars are an incredibly valuable tool if you have a very vocal dog in your absence. Blocking these patterns that the dog shows when you leave teaches them to find new coping mechanisms for you leaving the house. Most times this results in the dog relaxing and taking a nap.