It’s no surprise if your dog is howling, whining, barking, chewing on your furniture and peeing on your shoes when left alone. Your immediate instinct is to scold him for being a disruptive and naughty dog. But don’t get angry so quickly – your dog might have a separation anxiety problem that needs to be solved with care and love. Separation anxiety is the number one reason behind many frantic and destructive behaviors that pet parents often mistake for other behavioral problems. If untreated, the separation anxiety can become extreme and result in self-injury.
Don’t panic just yet! We have found the top three proven methods to teach your dog to tolerate being left alone and make both you and your pup’s lives easier.
Know your dog well
There’s no point in training your dog without knowing how long he can be away from you. Start within the dog’s threshold for separation, where he is calm and not in panic mode.
- Set up a camera with a free app like Skype or FaceTime and leave the house. Connect the camera’s view to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
- Need to get closer to where your dog is? Get Pebby. It connects to your home’s Wi-Fi network and streams a live feed of the camera’s view to a smartphone, tablet or computer. The smart robot is kept level and pointed forward so that you will always be able to watch your dog. You can control it remotely using Pebby app or program it to follow your pet by putting a collar that contains infrared sensors on it.
- Start the time as you leave the house and take note of how long it is calm before he starts to panic. Watch for signs of distress: pacing, circling, whining, barking, howling, scratching, yawning, jumping on the door, urination/defecation.
- Continue to watch for 5 to 10 minutes so you see the full range of your dog’s behavior while you are away and take detailed notes.
Once you know how long it takes before your dog starts to get anxious, you know your dog’s threshold. Now it’s time to start the training process.
Reduce excitement-inducing interactions
Behaving in a calm and quiet manner at home and when you are leaving will reduce extreme emotions from your pup when you are home. This will reduce the difference between times when you are present with your pooch and times when you’re gone.
Downplay goodbyes and hellos
While your dog is getting excited at your return, don’t follow and get excited with him. Be calm and give him a small acknowledgement of his presence when you return. For example, when greeting your dog, just give him a gentle pat on the head and don’t pay any more attention to him until he’s at ease. Do the same for when you are leaving home. Distract him by asking him to perform some simple commands that he has learned before such as ‘sit’ or ‘paw’. Slowly, the amount of time it takes for him to relax will decrease as he realises that you are not reciprocating the same amount of excitement that he is giving at your return.Train Your Dog
To Be Alone When You Are in the House
Place your pooch in a room by themselves while you stay at another part of the house. If it is difficult, start with small 5-10 second intervals that do not produce anxiety and work up to half an hour depending on its threshold. To know if your dog is anxious, watch for signs of stress in your dog. These signs include dilated pupils, panting, yawning, salivating, trembling, pacing and exuberant greeting. Once you detect stress, back up the time to a point where your dog is not stressed. Then start again at that level and progress with less increments. Your dog will gradually grow accustomed to being alone with the increased duration of separations over many weeks of daily sessions. Once your dog can tolerate more than half an hour of separation from you, increase your absences by larger durations of time.
Create Personal Space for Your Dog
Try not to sleep with your pup all the time. Get them a separate dog bed so that it does not grow too attached to you. Your dog will learn to enjoy having their own space without you, which will help ease their anxiety when you’re away.
Keep your dog active
Making your dog busy and happy is crucial in treating many behavioural problems, especially separation anxiety. Exercising and stimulating your dog’s mind and body provide sufficient and correct outlets for normal dog behaviors. Naturally, a tired pup will have less energy to expend on whining and being disruptive when left alone.
- Regularly bring your dog for 30 minutes of aerobic activity (such as running and swimming) every day. Try different exercises or bring him to different places so that he can experience new smells and sights. Do this right before you have to leave him by himself to help him relax and rest while you’re gone.
- Play energy-expending, interactive games with your dog, such as fetch and ball or let him play with his canine buddies.
- Occasionally provide food puzzle toys. Put your dog’s meals in these toys or stuff the toys with a little snack they like. Add some chew things, both edible and inedible, to encourage chewing and licking, which are proven to have a calming effect on dogs. Be sure to provide them only when you leave your dog alone, and remove them as soon as you return home so that your dog associates being alone with good things, like delicious food.
- Give your dog a food-hunting activity when you leave by hiding small piles of pet food around your house when you leave. Dogs love this!
- Join dog sports with your dog, such as freestyle (dancing with your dog) or flyball.
- Buy a Pebby for your dog to play with at home. With Pebby’s built-in mic and speaker, you can interact with your pooch wherever you are. Receive “Bark” alerts when your pet is itching to play, and send a “woof” in return. Its auto-play function will entertain and distract your pooch from your absence.
If none of these work for you, speak with your veterinarian to find out what’s wrong. It is worth noting that scolding or punishing your dog does not help curb their distress responses. Your dog displays anxious behaviors when left alone because he’s upset and trying to cope with a great deal of stress, and it is not due to disobedience or spite. Punishing your anxious puppy could make him even more upset and the problem could get much worse. Curing separation anxiety in dogs does not come instantly, but it can be easily achieved with love, dedication and the help of Pebby products.