What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is defined as when your dog shows signs of stress at being left, usually in the house on their own. The dog will often bark, or howl, sometimes for long periods. This may result in complaints from neighbours.
Can your dog stay calmly in another room?
Other symptoms can include repetitive behaviours, such as chewing their paws or over licking themselves. Or they might become destructive; chewing furniture or even the fabric of the house itself. Sometimes dogs become ‘naughty’ – soiling in the house, or pulling rubbish from the bin.
Quin used to chew cushions! It may seem obvious that these behaviours are seeking attention, but that doesn’t make your life any easier! Basically, your dog is not happy without you.
In order to avoid separation anxiety, you first of all need to develop confidence in your dog. They need to be certain of your love and your presence. You need to spend time with them, playing and petting them. If you have obtained a puppy from a KC Assured Breeder then they should be well socialised and used to normal family life.
When you get your puppy home, it might be tempting to spend all day, every day with them, or to take them with you everywhere. However, it is vital that your puppy is used to being left, right from the start. I always have a Crate for my puppies and they sleep in this, in the kitchen, from day one. They know that this is their bed and their safe space. The puppy should be rewarded every time they are put into their crate. Never use it as a punishment – if something has gone wrong, it was probably your fault!
When you are in the house, try to encourage an atmosphere of calm. Easier said than done, I know! If you have children, there will inevitably be comings and goings, visitors and the normal hustle and bustle of family life. But try nonetheless to ensure that for some of the day at least, the dog is able to relax, while you are relaxed.
Reward the behaviour you want
When you see your dog lying calmly, reward them. The best way to do this is with a calm, gentle stroke and quiet verbal praise. You can say something like “Good settle, well done”.
The next stage is to have your dog calm and relaxed away from you, while you are in the house. Your dog might like lying at your feet, but they should equally be able to lounge around elsewhere. Some dogs actively seek other space – Busy prefers to lie by the front door. Again, if this is a challenge for your dog, try leaving them for a few minutes, then return and praise. Gradually build up the time, until they are not fussing to come back to you. This will help prevent separation anxiety from building up.
Go out without them
It is hard for dogs to understand that you will be back and this is the main cause of separation anxiety. You cannot explain to them that all is fine and you’ll be back soon. However, if you make it seem like no big deal, there is more chance that they will remain calm when you are not around. Try to avoid giving them a great big welcome when you come back – just walk in and get on with making a cup of tea. Then when you are settled, give them some love.
As with all training and behaviour, you must practice if you want success. So don’t spend all day every day with your dog and then expect them to manage without you. Equally, going out to work for ten or twelve hours every day is a bit unfair on a dog. I used to think that no-one should ever work full time and have dogs. But I understand now that it is not that simple. Dogs naturally sleep for most of the day. So if they are given a walk or two, are able to go to the toilet every few hours (or have a run or yard to stay in), then they are probably fine. Equally, if you have more than one dog, they will interact with each other. NB: I am not suggesting you get two puppies together!
Dogs do need something to think about! In the wild they would be hunting for food, which they clearly do not need to do in our homes. Having said that, you can buy interactive feeding bowls that help the dog eat more slowly, or keep them entertained for longer.
You can also buy interactive toys for your dog. Although having a box of toys and a few bones to chew will provide plenty of stimulation. Empty yoghurt pots or drinks bottles can provide hours of fun!
Dogs do like company, but there are lots of options. I always leave the radio on when I’m out. If we are out in the evening, I might stick the TV on – lots of dogs watch TV. And dogs don’t have to have other dogs for company; many dogs enjoy being around other animals, such as cats. Finally, you can of course hire a dog walking service, who will come in and let your dog out, spend time with them or take them for a walk.
Weekly Focus Challenge
How well does your dog cope with being left? What do you do to help them when you go out? How often do you leave them? Is there anything you think you could, or should do differently?
Buy the Workbook
The Workbook – A Year With Your Puppy is available to buy. It was written and designed to be a hands-on, interactive book for you. It will help you survive the first year with your puppy, but also act as a memento of that time and the journey you have been on. You can write notes and stick in pictures of your puppy throughout the year. Lovely!
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.