One of the hardest things about having a dog is leaving her home alone all day. We guiltily close the front door as she watches us go with sad eyes and pathetic whimpers. You may notice more cases of separation anxiety in dogs than other domestic animals, such as cats, who take your absence as an excuse to sleep all day and lounge around the house. Dogs, and especially puppies, require much more attention and care, and you may be wondering how to calm an anxious dog or help a dog with separation anxiety.
Dogs aim to please people. This trait was developed hundreds of years ago when wolves, dogs’ direct descendants, first became domesticated. They made themselves cute and likable to humans so that they would receive food and love, thus fostering their behaviors that trigger sympathy in humans: irresistible whines, sad eyes, and lots of affection. Because dogs have this strong desire to appeal to humans and please them so that they will be fed, their existence has become solely dependent on their owners. It’s important to keep this in mind when deciding to get a dog or train the dog you do have.
When we leave our dogs at home to go to work for eight or nine hours at a time, many dogs become stressed and anxious. It’s hard for an animal that is so dependent on humans to be away from their owners for any amount of time, much less most of the day. Just as it’s hard for preschoolers to leave their parents on their first day of school, puppy separation anxiety can be especially severe. It takes time to teach your puppy that you will return to home eventually and that you’re not leaving her alone forever.
Here are six simple dog separation anxiety remedies. Utilize these anxiety training tips to help your dog become more well-adjusted and relaxed when left alone.
1. Invest in solo-play toys
There are many types of toys to keep your dog busy while you’re away. Kong makes puzzle feeders that work well for engaging a dog left alone at home. These puzzle feeders allow dogs to work hard to reach the food hidden in the middle, turning it into a game that will keep a dog occupied for hours. Similarly, there are balls that dogs can roll around and chase on the floor that randomly emit pieces of the dog’s dry food or treats. This way they have something to play with on their own; and, to make the game even more exciting, they are rewarded for their hard work with food–the one thing they care about most.
While most of the solo-play toys on the market involve seeking out food, it may help to keep the dog’s favorite toys out around the house so she can have the option of squeaking or chewing if she becomes bored.
2. Hire a dog walker
Dog walkers are becoming increasingly common, especially in larger cities, where many people have dogs in small apartments with no outdoor space. Daytime walking adds a lot to a dog’s happiness, allowing her to get some extra attention, even if it’s not from her main human.
Hiring a dog walker can create additional bonds with other people that become crucial to a dog’s social skills. It also allows the dog to get more exercise during an otherwise boring day at home. Your dog will have something else to look forward to, instead of just waiting around for you to return home from work each evening.
3. Put up an interactive camera
Technology has allowed dog owners around the world keep an eye on their pets while they’re away. There are now cameras that include two-way microphones so that you can hear your pet and they can hear you. While the dog may first be confused by this, hearing your voice but not being able to see you anywhere, eventually you will be able to calm your stressed-out dog by talking to it throughout the day.
Start by showing the dog the camera and talking through the microphone while you’re somewhere else in the house. Then enter the room and talk to your dog in your normal voice. Eventually the dog may think you’re around when you’re actually at work, and this may calm the dog considerably.
The camera also allows you to keep an eye on what the dog is up to all day, which may lead to other ideas about how to help your dog relax. You can see if your dog is acting out in ways that seem directly related to separation anxiety and track your pup’s progress throughout your anxiety training.
4. Try a dog anxiety wrap
Just like swaddling a baby fosters sleep and comfort, so does wrapping a puppy or dog in a dog anxiety wrap. These wraps make your dog feel safe and secure, and are best used if you’re only going to be gone for a short time, rather than an entire day.
Even if your dog does not suffer from separation anxiety, but gets stressed during a thunderstorm or in a large crowd, wrapping your dog in an anxiety wrap or a blanket helps the dog relax. There are wraps specifically designed for certain stressful situations, such as a storm or loneliness/depression, so check out a local pet store or talk to your veterinarian about which option would be best for your dog’s issue. Investing in a vest or wrap for your dog can lead to a less stressed out dog and a better pet-owner relationship.
5. Act like it’s no big deal
When you do leave your dog at home, don’t tell her goodbye a million times or act extra affectionate. Avoid petting her or keeping her attention on you as you exit your home. This may alert your dog to what’s coming, creating a trigger that causes more stress. Act like nothing different is happening, and silently slip out the door so your dog isn’t necessarily sitting by the door watching you leave.
When you leave, make sure the dog has a KONG or a similar toy so there is already something for the dog to focus on. Keeping the dog engaged in an activity during a time like this, when you know the dog is more likely to get stressed, is an easy and effective tactic. Making a big deal about your departure will only make the dog more aware of what’s going on.
6. Train with rewards
When you come home after being gone a long time, this is the time you can give your dog affection and love. If the dog was well behaved while you were away, and didn’t get into anything it shouldn’t have or scratch up a door or piece of furniture, reward your good dog with a treat or walk. This gives the dog something to look forward to at the end of the day, and gives the dog a reason to be well-behaved while at home alone.
Keeping up with this kind of routine also helps you and your dog create bonding rituals. For example, if you reward your dog with practicing the tricks you’ve taught her–sit, roll over, spin, jump–before feeding her or giving out treats, your dog will get excited as soon as you walk in the door and will start to expect these rituals. These routines add to your dog’s comfort and enjoyment, and will also allow more time for the two of you to bond every day.
Separation anxiety in dogs can be emotional for both dog and owner. It’s never fun to deal with a sad dog and feel guilty while you’re away taking care of your obligations. Keep in mind that while you can’t avoid working and living your normal life, if you decide to add a new puppy to your family, be sure to adopt at a time when someone will be home for a few days without leaving for long periods of time. Puppy separation anxiety can be more severe than separation anxiety in dogs. The very beginning of your relationship with your dog is when your puppy is most likely to become anxious and stressed out when you leave. Allow yourself some time to be there for the new animal that is in a brand-new place with brand-new people.
These six simple dog separation anxiety training tips will help your puppy or dog adapt to being alone for long periods of time during the day. Remember to: invest in solo-play toys to keep your dog engaged; hire a dog walker for extra exercise and socializing; put up an interactive camera to communicate with and keep an eye on your pup; try a dog anxiety wrap for security; act like it’s no big deal when you leave; and train your dog with rewards when you return home.
Following these tips will teach you how to help a dog with separation anxiety and how to calm an anxious dog. Training your dog to become comfortable with being alone is crucial for a well-adjusted, well-behaved canine friend. And that’s every dog owner’s goal!