We all know that leaving your puppy alone for the first time can be stressful for both of you, but for some adult dogs, separation anxiety is still very much a part of their lives. Despite thousands of years of domestication, dogs are still a social pack animal who instinctively rely on the company of others to make them feel safe (whether their company has four paws, or two feet). So as owners, we must help our dogs learn that being left home alone is ok, and not something to worry about.
Does my dog suffer with separation anxiety?
If you are not sure whether your pooch worries when you leave the house, here are some initial dog anxiety symptoms you can look for:
- Do they pace as you prepare to leave the house?
- Do they bark, whine, follow you or show other signs of distress when you leave?
- Are they extremely pleased to see you, and clingy when you come home?
- Are they panting, or have a wet mouth when you return?
- Have they chewed something they shouldn’t have, perhaps something that smells of you?
If you are sat there thinking “oh my goodness, YES”, then get yourself a pet camera to see what they get up to home alone. If your dog is anxious, they may bark, whine or howl soon after you leave. However, not all dogs will do this, so it is important to look out for other signs of stress too:
- Chewing. Dogs chew to relieve tension, but this could also include chewing something of yours to surround themselves in a nest of your scent.
- Scratching at doors, or attempting to escape to come and find you.
- Climbing up to look out of windows, looking out for you.
- Going to the toilet. Just like us, dogs may have an urge to go to the loo when they are nervous.
- Panting, drooling, and drinking excessively. This could be a sign they have an increased heart rate, a result of being anxious.
Why is my dog suffering with separation anxiety?
As a young pack animal, puppies will always feel more comfortable in your company. However, any puppy can be given the confidence to be on their own with the right training. Therefore, if your dog is anxious, this could be for various reasons including the following:
- Your dog has had many owners. If you have a rescue dog, then there is likely to be a period of adjustment as they learn the routines of their new pack.
- They have had a bad experience whilst alone. Perhaps something has happened at home which has scared them that you are unaware of?
- It is in their nature. Like humans, some dogs are just less confident than others, and so may require more patience, comfort, and guidance.
Dog Separation Anxiety Solutions
"So what should I do", we hear you cry! Don’t panic, whether your four-legged friend is a puppy or an adult, with lots of re-assurance and patience, any nervous hound can learn to enjoy a little alone time.
Start small. Leave your dog alone in a room for a few minutes, and perhaps give them a treat so they can start to associate being alone with something positive. You may even want to use stair gates so that they can still see and hear you to begin with. Simply go about your business as usual so they know being apart from you is no big deal.
Slowly increase this time, building up to leaving them alone in the house for a few hours. You can use a pet camera to watch their behaviour, or use a dog activity monitor to track their movements. Any time they start to show signs of worry, simply reduce the time until they are comfortable again. Here are some added tips:
- Make sure they have had some exercise. Ensuring your pooch has run off some energy will help them relax when they are home alone.
- Sometime before you go, consider feeding them a small meal to fill their belly, and make sure they go to the toilet. This will help them slip into a relaxed slumber whilst you are gone.
- Consider leaving the radio on, set to low volume. Choosing a calm station, with more chatter then music, will help fill the silence and muffle any startling outside noise.
- Before you leave, give your dog something to keep them busy for a good amount of time. Try a frozen Kong full of delicious treats, or a puzzle treat toy.
- No big goodbyes. Simply give your dog something to do as you get ready, and leave. If they understand you are going somewhere, it could give them time to become concerned.
- No big hellos. Equally, don’t make your arrival a big event. Instead, calmly greet your dog, and carry out your usual business. This will help them understand that being left alone is not a big deal.
- Try the Furbo camera! As well as seeing and talking to your dog, you can also give them a treat when they are calm to help reinforce this behaviour. Choose a moment when they are awake, but calm.
- Don’t leave them on their own for too long. If you are going to be out the house for more than a few hours, consider hiring a pet sitter or walker to help break up your dog’s day.
We hope this has given you some ideas to help make your pooch feel at ease when they are home alone. For further reading, we recommend visiting one of the following sites. Always consider asking your vet for further advice too!
Further Reading on Dog Separation Anxiety