Our dogs sure are excited about all of our extra time spent at home right now! Stay-at-home guidelines have resulted in humans spending more time with their dogs than ever before. But as some of us inevitably begin to return to work, the dogs that have gotten used to our never-ending company and attention must adjust to a new reality: A quieter, empty house. Some dogs adjust well to the change; others may need some help.
“Dogs are highly social, which is why we get along with them so well,” said Patricia B. McConnel, a certified applied animal behaviorist. “If all of a sudden, they go from ‘everybody home all the time’ to ‘nobody home all day long,’ it can lead to some problems.”
Signs of trouble
There are some signs to look out for to know if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. They include:
- Accidents in the house despite being housebroken
- Chewing or ripping up things that are not their toys
- Scratching at windows and doors
- Excessively howling or barking
- Drooling, panting, or salivating more than usual
- Obsessive pacing
- Escape attempts
If your dog displays any of these signs, do not worry — there are several things you can do to alleviate separation anxiety.
1) Do not punish
First, do not punish your dog when you come home and discover that they did something naughty. According to Katherine A. Houpt, professor emeritus of behavior medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, dogs will have forgotten what they did wrong and will “no longer associate punishment with action.”
Instead, try the following techniques:
2) Practice departure cues
Think about what you do before you leave the house. Likely, you grab your keys, put on shoes, and depending on the time of year, put on a jacket. Try doing those things a few times per day and then walk around the house for a minute. Then put the items away. Those actions are triggers for your dog that you are leaving. By practicing these cues several times throughout the day, your dog will get more comfortable with them because it does not always mean you are leaving.
3) Arrive casually
Although you might be as excited to see your dog as they are to see you, keep it casual when you greet your dog. Wait until they calm down before giving him attention.
It cannot be stated enough, but make sure your dog gets exercise appropriate to her breed and age. Proper exercise is good for all facets of your dog’s life.
5) Teach “out-of-sight-stay”
Have your dog sit or lay down. Take a step back, then return and give him a treat. Repeat, but take three steps, then four steps, each time returning with a treat. Do this until you can turn a corner and are out of your dog’s sight. Always return to your dog, release him from his stay, and give him a treat. Do not allow him to return to you; you want him to learn that when you return, he gets a reward.
6) Provide mental enrichment
It is just as important to work your dog’s brain as it is their body. Have your dog solve a puzzle. Serve their treats in a toy instead of a bowl — to encourage play with that toy when you leave.
7) Safe space
Leave your dog in a safe space that he knows; do not lock him in a room that is unfamiliar. The safe space could be a particular room in the house or even his crate. For dogs that bark a lot, the best safe space is a place without a view, since there will be nothing for your dog to bark at and possibly become upset.
If anxious behavior persists, take your dog to a veterinarian and work out a care plan.
Does your dog have separation anxiety? What techniques have you tried to alleviate the problem? Tell us!