Dogs are an important part of the family dynamic. Most times, dog owners will consider their furry friends part of the family. And for dogs, being part of a family is ingrained into their being due to the nature of the pack. Yet, unlike human family members, it isn’t easy to take your beloved dog with you wherever you go. This often leads to times when dogs are left at home, causing them distress due to separation anxiety.
Dogs express separation anxiety with bad behaviors that might include excessive barking, biting, chewing, digging, and relieving themselves indoors. Homeowners may mistake these actions as simply a dog acting badly, yet oftentimes these destructive behaviors are a result of distress caused by being separated from their owners.
When a dog feels they’ve been separated from their pack, they’ll display extreme behaviors in an attempt to deal with the stress. In some instances, dogs will try to escape the home, which can lead to injury depending on the severity of the anxiety.
Here we will discuss some of the things you can do to help your furry family member deal with being left home alone:
How Does Separation Anxiety Develop in Dogs?
One of the first questions you are bound to ask is, why does my dog have separation anxiety? Dogs can develop separation anxiety for a variety of reasons, some of which may include:
Being introduced to a home from a shelter: If a dog has spent time in a shelter, it’s used to always having a person or fellow canine around. When introduced into a family home, the dog is not used to times when it will have to be alone while its owners are away.
Changes in scheduling: If you’ve recently changed your family’s routine, then a dog will need time to adjust to the new scheduling. Dogs are acutely aware of any subtle changes that may occur with household scheduling.
Change in ownership: It goes without saying a change in ownership for a dog can be extremely stressful. This may lead to the dog exhibiting severe symptoms of anxiety due to being housed with a new owner.
Loss of a family member: Our furry friends may not be able to clearly communicate with us, but dogs are capable of realizing the loss of someone close to them. If a family member or their owner has passed, they may have a lot of difficulty dealing with the loss and act out in an attempt to deal with their anxiety.
How to Help a Dog Cope With Separation Anxiety
How you deal with a dog experiencing separation anxiety depends on the severity of their conditions. If your dog is experiencing mild symptoms, you may want to try some of the following steps:
- Leave out unwashed clothes that have your scent. The clothing should help relax your dog while you’re out.
- Don’t make a big deal about leaving the house. Ensure your exit and return are subdued, and ignore the dog for several minutes after returning from your errands.
- Provide a special treat when leaving home. Try to make sure the treat can’t be quickly consumed; that way, it will keep your furry friend busy while you’re out. Remove the treat when you get home to show the dog that they only receive it while you’re away.
If the dog’s separation is more severe, such as attempting to escape the residence or extreme acts of destruction, you’ll have to take additional precautions for their safety and your peace of mind. These might include:
- Practice preparing to go out without actually going out. Many dogs will start to experience anxiety when they notice you getting ready to go, such as putting on a coat, getting keys, or other aspects of your routine. Go through these actions several times a day without actually leaving. This will help your dog get over these stress-inducing triggers.
- Utilize a dog crate while out to limit the dog’s access to other portions of the house. It may seem inappropriate to put your furry friend in a crate when running errands or going to work, but it not only limits their ability to be destructive in the home but also prevents them from injuring themselves while stressed. This technique should only be used for dogs already familiar with a crate. Never force a dog to remain in the crate if they show signs of distress, such as howling, heavy panting, or attempting to escape.
Things to Remember When Helping Your Dog Overcome Separation Anxiety
If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, always try to make sure they get adequate exercise during the course of the day. A tired dog has less energy to expend, and it may help them overcome destructive behaviors when you’re not home.
Do not punish your dog for separation anxiety. The behaviors they exhibit when you’re not around are not the result of disobedience but a coping mechanism to deal with the stress of being alone. Punishment may aggravate the problem and make the dog’s stress response worse.
Seek help from a professional if the dog’s behavior does not improve over time. Sometimes it’s best to consult with a veterinarian about what other options are available to calm your dog.
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