Dogs need company just like humans. Most dogs learn to accept being alone for short periods. Some dogs don’t. They can become distressed and very anxious when they are left alone. They may bark, pace restlessly, whine, pant, or become destructive. They may also eat through walls, drool, vomit, or jump through windows to escape in an attempt to find their family.
The first half-hour of a person’s departure is the worse time for dogs with separation anxiety but can occur in varying degrees of intensity until the person returns.
Genetics or a history of abandonment can quickly become a major problem. The most difficult behavior to correct in a dog is probably separation anxiety because it requires someone being with the dog at all times during a lengthy process of behavior modification.
A dog suffering from separation anxiety will cause minor to major destruction when alone, and it is usually focused on exit points (doors and windows), or places or objects it associates with a family member (bed, shoes, sofa). A person may bite their nails to relieve tension, while dogs will chew to release endorphins in his body.
There are five ways to tackle the problem.
Exercise releases mood-enhancing chemicals into a dog’s body. Daily exercise and mental enrichment will help reduce emotional responses. Appropriate exercise (physical and mental) are required by dogs with separation anxiety.
- Change of Habits
Dogs are tuned into their person’s behavior before they depart. Picking up keys or putting on shoes or a coat can trigger panic and anxiety. You can lessen your dog’s anxiety by leaving your keys in different places, going out through a different door, changing into different shoes in the garage, etc., but your dog will soon become wise to your different departure cues. So, you also need to change your dog’s expectations.
- Change Your Dog’s Expectations
How do you do this? Put on your coat and sit on your sofa instead of walking out the door. Pick up your keys and go to the kitchen to wash the dishes. When you leave, close the door and then immediately come back inside. Repeat these types of exercises over several days until your departures stop triggering a negative response.
Time spent away should be gradually increased from a minute to a few minutes to 10 or 15 minutes to half an hour, etc. Your dog’s confidence in your return should gradually increase.
- Make Your Leaving and Returning No Big Deal
Like people, dogs are sensitive to changes in their environment. The transition from noise and energy when you are home to silence when you leave adds to his feeling of abandonment and panic.
Leave the television on or turn on the radio with some calming music or leave some lights on while you are away.
- Provide Toys or Activities When You Leave
You shouldn’t use toys until you have worked your dog up to being alone for about five minutes. You should also have introduced him to toys and chews while you are relaxing at home. In that way, you build a positive emotion to a particular toy or chew.
NOTE: The main reason dogs are relinquished to shelters every year is separation anxiety. Make sure your dog is not destroying your home or barking etc. because she is bored vs. having separation anxiety. If you do suspect separation anxiety consult your Vet to make sure there isn’t a medical cause for your dog’s behavior. If your Vet believes it is separation anxiety, he can probably refer you to a local trainer that can be of help.