Separation Anxiety is a tough problem and many people and dogs face it every day. Some dogs shiver and quake at the sight of their person getting ready for work. Some dogs will bloody themselves and do thousands of dollars of damage in a short time if left alone.
On the moderate side of separation anxiety, some dogs simply gather their person’s things together in a pile when they leave.
Dogs with mild separation anxiety simply wont eat or play until their person returns.
Sudden onset? See your vet!
If your dog suddenly has separation anxiety, please see your vet. Many health issues from vision loss to dementia can cause behaviour changes. Rule those out first.
Have a friendly neighbour?
While you are working on making your dog more confident, manage the problem. Find a friend or neighbour who might dog sit or stay at your house while you go out. Many seniors are dog lovers who don’t want to commit to a dog long term or financially, but maybe you have one in your neighborhood who would like to care for your dog when you go out.
What can you do to help your dog?
- Identify any activities that alert your dog that you are leaving. Dogs are masters of anticipation. Just like they let you know if dinner is 5 minutes late, they know which shoes and jackets you wear when you are leaving them, the keys you pick up, the way you do your hair. Make a list of the things you do and desensitize your dog to them. For instance, put on your work shoes, give your dog a cookie, adn sit down and have a cup of tea. Take off your work shoes.
- Don’t make coming and going a big deal. It is ok to say “Be right back” when you leave, but don’t make a huge deal. Similarly, when you come home. calmly greet your dog, or even wait 2 minutes or until he is calm, provided his anxiety is moderate. If he is super excited, instead of matching his energy, pretend you are confused about why he is so excited. Calmly greet him and ask him to go lie on his bed while you make tea or start dinner.
- Practicing coming and going a lot. For short durations. An hour is forever to your dog. If you always leave for a long time, your dog will continue to worry. Practice leaving for 10 seconds. 30 seconds. 2 seconds. Just open the door, then go back to reading your book.
- Give your dog a ‘Quiet Space’ and practice calming exercises there. For many dogs, having the run of the house makes their anxiety worse. They can pace back and forth between rooms, looking out of windows, re-checking to see if you are in the bathroom. Sometimes free access also means hazards like couch eating and wall chewing are likely. Give your dog a small, safe space to be in. Work with them to make it a positive place where they practice being calm.
- Ditch the dish and use food puzzles, snuffle mats, and food toys instead. Instead of feeding from a bowl, use the food toys etc in the ‘Quiet Space’. This will give your dog something to do and build a habit of calmly chilling out in that space. As your dog progresses with eating in the Quiet Space, feed him and leave for a few minutes, or go take a shower to get him used to the idea of staying there alone.
- White Noise Not just when you leave, but all day, leave a talk show radio or TV on. Sometimes the noise of people talking will be enough to make your dog feel like they aren’t alone. At first, don’t just turn it on when you leave as this can become a predictor of you leaving and cause more stress.
- Camera Spy Cams are fairly cheap now. There are many options available. A camera at home will allow you to use your phone to check in on your dog anytime you feel like it, which can help with your anxiety, if not your dogs!
- Find your dog a buddy. I’m not typically one to suggest getting a pet for reasons other than you really want another pet, but a new dog or cat might help! Be careful that you choose a very stable companion as adding in a second anxious pet might not have great results!
- Talk to your vet about medication to help
- Read the book “Don’t Leave me” by Nicole Wilde and this blog post by Your Dog Advisor
If you need help, please ask. I’m happy to help in person or via Hangouts/Skype meetings. I have worked my own dogs through separation anxiety, as well as many clients.