As we all start to return to “normal” over the next few months, keep in mind that your pup will probably be experiencing separation anxiety. After all, you’ve just spent the last 15 months spending most of your time at home, around your pets. Quarantine may have been a struggle for you; but, for your dog, it was euphoria. Now they have to get used to spending more time alone while you’re back at work, out enjoying time with friends, or away on vacation. And that’s tough for them. So, we wanted to help you find ways to help your dog through this very real condition – separation anxiety.
What is “separation anxiety”?
Separation anxiety is the stress and anxiousness your dogs experience when they’re left alone. Of course, it feels good to know that your dog misses you, but separation anxiety is serious and can be tough to overcome. If left unaddressed, it can result in dangerous situations for your pet. The stress can even begin to affect your pet’s physical health.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
Signs of separation anxiety could include barking, howling, crying, pacing, digging, scratching, chewing and urinating. Correcting separation anxiety isn’t a fast process, so the sooner you start, the better you and your pup will be set up for success.
Separation Anxiety Training Tips
Here are some training tips for how to combat separation anxiety.
Tip #1: Mental stimulation!
We all know a tired dog is a happy dog, but a tired dog is also a more relaxed dog. So, to start, you need to ensure your pet is getting enough physical AND mental stimulation. We’re big fans of digging games, puzzle games and treat balls, as they provide lots of mental stimulation to build confidence in dogs being able to occupy themselves and feel comfortable on their own.
So, before you head to a meeting, get out your dog’s favorite mental enrichment games, or better yet mix it up. My dog Rossi is obsessed with his iDig, while Maggie is more of an iFetch girl. You know your dog best. Over the next few days make this a ritual of something you do each day. Set up your game and do some training and playtime together having fun but also making sure they’re getting the mental stimulation they need.
Dogs have to think, sniff and solve problems, so encourage them to dig, forage and “find it”, learn how to drop the ball into the launcher, etc. Once the play session is done (20-30 minutes usually does the trick), pick up the toy and put it away.
As your dog starts to enjoy playing these enrichment games, begin to teach them they can play away from you. Place the game in a room and slowly distance yourself by stepping out of the room, walking around the house and not directly interacting together. We are teaching our dog that it’s okay for them to play even if we’re not right there next to them. If they follow you, redirect them back to the toy. Stay for a few minutes before heading out of the room. Most dogs will be so distracted with the activity, they won’t even know you have left.
Tip #2: Desensitize your dog to you leaving
Often our dogs start to have anxiety even before we leave the house. After all, they’re ALWAYS watching you. To lessen their anxiety from building up, there are a few triggers we need to desensitize our dogs to. Think of your routine. Your dog knows the cues that you are leaving. When you are putting shoes on, dressing in different clothes, grabbing your purse or wallet — these are things that start the anxiety process for our pets.
Start by breaking these actions down and doing them one by one and not leaving the house. For example, put on your shoes and go sit on the couch and watch some tv or grab your purse or wallet and walk around the house. You can also get ready to go (shower, dress, etc.) but instead of leaving, turn it into a positive thing and play a game of iFetch together. The point is to break down the association of leaving to reduce their anxiety.
Tip #3: Build duration
The next step is to slowly build the time away from the house. To start, step outside, close the door and come right back in while staying calm – like it’s no big deal. It’s important not to make a fuss when you leave or come home, as this can trigger the anxiety we are trying to avoid. Over the next few days continue to leave a few times a day. You can go get the mail, walk around the block, etc. Start with 30 seconds to a minute (remembering to keep your greetings calm — a nice chin scratch and a hello is perfect) and then working up to 5, 10, 30 minutes, and so on. It’s a great time to go for a walk by yourself, catch up on some text messages, order some more tennis balls or just get some fresh air.
Keep an Eye on Their Progress
While you’re doing this, if your dog is showing stress signs like barking, whining, pacing, or excessive panting, keep practicing until that behavior calms down. If your dog is doing fine, then continue to build duration!
If you have a pet camera at home, like I do, you can keep an eye on how your pet is progressing. Notice signs of stress? Decrease the time separation time. Hopefully you can use the summer to build up duration, so that when you return to work, your dog can remain calm throughout the day.
Toys for Unsupervised Play
The iDig is a great toy to leave out for your dog when you leave. Hide treats, their favorite toys (rotate them so they stay exciting), and even an old t-shirt or pair of socks with your scent. Being close to something with your scent is calming for your pup. If your dog has successfully mastered the iFetch or iFetch Too automatic ball launchers, you could try leaving those out too. Make sure they’re trained to use the products safely. For example, they shouldn’t stand in front of the chute where the ball launches, or paw at the machine to knock it over. One of our long-time iFetch customers leaves their iFetch plugged in each night. In the morning their dachshund can wake up and fetch downstairs until they are ready to come down to start the day. He never misses a workout!
Follow these tips to reduce and hopefully eliminate your dog’s separation anxiety. Best of luck training and bonding with your besties! We hope you have a wonderful summer!