After the pandemic is over and we all start returning to school and work, many dogs will be left alone for the first time in a long time – some for the first time ever. As we return to normal, you can take a few steps now to ensure your dog has a smooth transition and does not develop separation anxiety.
Dog separation anxiety is when your furry friend becomes stressed in the absence of another individual or group. Being pack animals, and therefore highly social, dogs are prone to develop separation anxiety.
Anxiety can manifest itself as destructive chewing, vocalizations such as howling and barking, accidents, and escape behaviors.
If you have a dog with separation anxiety, punishing the symptoms of anxiety will not decrease their levels of anxiety, but may in fact increase it. For instance, punishing a dog for barking may stop the barking. But because the dog still is stressed, probably even more so now, he may now start to chew or urinate when left alone. We must alleviate the underlying cause of the behavior to completely eradicate it.
The steps to alleviate dog separation anxiety are the same to prevent it. Since it is always easier to prevent something than to cure it, I encourage you to practice the following steps to teach your dog to be alone.
How To Help A Dog With Separation Anxiety
Low-key arrivals and departures. Ignore your dog for the first fifteen to twenty minutes when leaving or arriving home. Practice leaving. When you are staying home, make a point of putting your dog in the area where he is confined in your absence for five to ten minutes several times a day. Give him a KONG stuffed with his meal during this time so he enjoys it.
Redirect attention & reward absence. When you leave your dog alone literally litter his area with toys. Make it doggie Disneyland so he will have many correct items to chew on if he becomes anxious. Stuffing the toys with food passively teaches your dog to like them. Just because he has lots of toys, doesn’t mean he wants to play with them.
Save the really good stuff for when you are gone. The only time he gets peanut butter or chicken in his KONG is when he is alone. This will actually reward him for being alone. It also redirects any anxiety into getting the food out of his KONG toy.
Bonus – freeze the stuffed KONGs the night before. A frozen KONG will keep your dog busy and excited much longer.
Ban the bowl. Feed your dog his meals only in the KONG and only in your absence. If that is the only time he gets fed, it makes it more meaningful for him and hunger is a good motivator. If he can just eat out of his bowl, he is less likely to work for it.
Be patient and consistent. Separation anxiety does not develop overnight so it will not go away overnight. You should, however, see slow and steady progress as your dog becomes more and more secure in your absence.
Note: Getting another dog does not prevent or alleviate separation anxiety. Unless you are following the above steps, you will probably end up with two dogs with separation anxiety.
Check out KONG Club with a monthly box of toys and treats to help with separation anxiety and access to vet-led programs and plans to keep your help your dog feel more peaceful and secure when you leave the house.
By Cindy Scott, Certified Master Trainer
The Dogs Etc