If you’ve ever had a canine friend with separation anxiety, you know it! Imagine this: You adopt a cute shelter dog and bring him home on a Sunday night. On Monday morning, you leave for work, hoping he will behave himself. When you return on Monday night, he has chewed up practically everything in sight, pooped and peed on your new carpet, and barked so much that you received a noise complaint from your HOA. This is some serious separation anxiety! As your Tempe pet sitters have discovered, many rescued animals face this due to all the turmoil and sometimes horrible situations they have been through in their lives. Frankly, in human terms, they are afraid of being abandoned again. Many dogs will outgrow this phase, but some will be anxious their entire lives. Here are some tricks and tips to consider when dealing with separation anxiety.
-Start slow. If you adopt a dog from a shelter, do so on a Friday when you have the entire weekend to get to know him. Leave in short increments of time at first such as 30 minutes or an hour and then begin increasing your time away. This demonstrates to him that you WILL return even after long periods of time. Observe his behavior when you are home and not focusing on him to determine if separation anxiety will be problematic.
-Make sure you exercise your canine companion and give him enough stimulation or a “job” when you are home. A pup with separation anxiety will be more calm and collected if he has bonded with you and gotten out some of that nervous energy by playing with you, going running, biking, walking, or hiking, or rough-housing together. Herding cattle, carrying a doggie backpack weighted with full water bottles, or another job will help keep him occupied and reduce his anxiety. Many of the intelligent and working breeds such as German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Cattle Dogs need a job and to stay busy if at all possible or they become bored and destructive.
-Consider crate training and research how to do so appropriately. Puppies DO chew everything even if they have no anxiety since they are sometimes just teething, so for your own sanity teach them how to be ok in a crate when you are gone or sleeping. Crates can be a comfortable and safe place for your pooch that can help reduce anxiety and prevent destructive behaviors. This Tempe dog walker has her foster pup trained to run into the crate when she feeds everyone or even opens a treat bag. The dog has a positive association with the crate this way, and will even sometimes go in when people are home since it’s her “den.” An additional bonus of crating is the housebreaking assistance it provides. Covering the crate with a blanket may also be necessary to help reduce anxiety.
-Leave the tv or radio on along with a light so your pooch feels as if someone is home when you’re gone. Just the noise and voices talking may help reduce anxiety. There are even some DVDs out designed to be played for your dog and to keep him entertained!
-Very importantly, leave toys or chewies for your pup so he has something constructive to focus his energy on while you’re away. Kong toys are great in that you can fill them with peanut butter or plain lowfat yogurt and freeze them so your furkid has to take some time to getting all the goodies out. Also try “Everlasting Treats” or toys that you can hide treats in, bully sticks or elk antlers, or raw bones for a great challenge and distraction to help with separation anxiety.
When all else fails, consult a canine behaviorist for stubborn separation anxiety issues which are not easily resolved. Next up, cat separation anxiety!