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What is Separation Anxiety?

It’s really important to establish, if the way your dog behaves when left alone, is separation anxiety or a destructive behaviour through boredom, lack of stimulation and lack of training. It may also be an attention seeking behaviour if your dog has learned this behaviour often results in attention.

Maybe your dog is just enjoying a good chew in your absence, but not necessarily anxious.

A camera is a good way to watch your dog when you are out and decide if your dog has separation anxiety, or a behaviour issue that need training.

If you think your dog may have separation anxiety scroll down for more information.

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How to Stop Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Some dogs are naturally more anxious than others. Genetics, past history, even what happened to mum while pup was in uterus can influence separation anxiety.

Sometimes, we humans, can cause a dog to be anxious by our behaviour. You could behave in the same way with two dogs and get two very different results.

Even if your new dog or puppy appears confident and isn’t struggling being left alone, it’s useful to be aware of the things that we do, day to day, when leaving the home, that could cause our dog to be anxious.

Prevention is better than cure

It’s very easy when we get a new dog or puppy to feel the need to settle them in and not leave them on their own in the first few days. In reality, we should leave them on their own, from day 2 if not day 1.

Leave them in their crate while you go to another room (presuming they are crate trained – if you need a crate training sheet, click here). 

I always believe teaching a new pup or dog to sleep alone is a really good step to help prevent separation anxiety. I know some people want their dog in their room or even on their bed, but teach them to sleep alone first, then establish routines that work for you.

Personally I’d never have a dog on my bed, it just doesn’t work for me, but if you want to have your dog on your bed, no harm in that. Be sure to teach ‘on’ and ‘off’ commands. Your dog should only get on the bed when you say and gets off when you say. But do teach your dog to settle alone first. Get them to sleep alone sometimes throughout their life.

Good, consistent training also helps with separation anxiety. If your dog has clear boundaries and understands what’s expected from them, this builds their confidence. If all their needs are routinely met, they build trust in you.

Dog settling home alone

Leaving the Home Cues

Mostly, we have a routine when we are getting ready to leave the home. Maybe it’s getting a bag ready or the routine you have for getting dressed that suggests to your dog you’re going to be leaving them alone.

Maybe you have a completely morning routine before you go to work. Maybe you eat your breakfast in a different room.

The clothes you wear, the shoes you put on, your body language when you greet your dog in the morning. All of these things can be indicators to your dog that you are going out.

Closer to the time, putting shoes and coat on, picking up your keys, so many cues for your dog.

Any of these can become a trigger for your dog starting to feel anxious. Their body language and behaviour might change, some time before you leave the home.

If your pup or dog is anxious home alone, it’s important to see at what point your dog starts to show restlessness or anxiety.

If your dog or puppy is new to you, think about the cues you will give when you getting ready to go our and avoid them becoming triggers.

Does your dog have Separation Anxiety?

Watch your dog’s behaviour

Your dog’s body language and the sort of behaviours you see will tell you if it’s separation anxiety. Drooling, pacing, howling and if chewing, this is often at exit areas of the house such as door frames or window frames.

Your dog may start to show these behaviours or restlessness before you leave the home. Once you start giving the cues that you are getting ready to leave.

If you’re unsure, record a video of your dog’s behaviour and send it to us. We will try to help you decide if it’s separation anxiety.

What do I do now my dog has separation anxiety?

Depending how serious it is and your lifestyle, you will need to start work on this slowly. If you have to go to work and you know you dog howls and is distressed the whole time you are gone, you need to seek some help from dog professionals who can care for your dog in your absence.

Please don’t think your dog will grow out of it

Finding the time to start the training

You need to be prepared to take some time over this. It does depend how bad your dog’s separation anxiety is.

Plan and prepare to take the time to help your dog feel comfortable and happy being alone.

  • Think about the cues you give your dog when you’re getting ready to leave
  • Think about which door you leave from
  • Think about how much fuss you make over your dog when you leave
  • Think about how much fuss you make over your dog when you return

Begin to change what happens. Don’t build new cues, but change the cues to become meaningless. For example,

  • Put your shoes and coat on but don’t leave the house.
  • Pick your keys up and carry them round the house with you.
  • If you always go into the garden through the back door, but always leave to go out through the front door, vary this.

At what point does your dog show distress

Sometimes dogs are comfortable if their owner is in the garden or leaves the house, but it’s the sound of the car engine starting that causes the distress.

Watch your dog, decide at what point he is starting to show signs of distress. That way you know what it is you’ve got to work on.

Start building confidence

You will need to build up slowly, leaving your dog alone. This may have to start from just leaving them in another room, or leaving them while you go in the garden. You need to make you leaving a positive not a negative.

If you use a crate correctly, you’ll make sure you close the crate door at times when you remain in the home or when your dog gets fed in there. Don’t just close the door when you leave the room or the house.

If it’s the car engine, you might have to start by sitting in your car and building up the time you sit with the engine running before being able to drive off. (Not environmentally friendly I know – but needs must sometimes).

Training with firm and consistent boundaries can help build your dog’s confidence.

Give your dog activities where they can successfully achieve. Nose work activities are great for building a dog’s confidence.

Plan and prepare. Work out the cues. Work out what it is or at what point your dog is distressed. Crate train or find a safe space in the home for your dog and train your dog to be alone in this space.

Lots of things you can start to prepare, then make sure you have a good amount of time when you don’t have to leave your dog alone to go to work or anywhere else and start building his confidence slowly.

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