Is your dog destructive when you leave home? Although you may have tried to placate your dog, to reassure them, and to calm them, the resolution isn’t always that simple.
Will dog training help separation anxiety?
The answer: it’s honestly the ONLY way to help separation anxiety without medical intervention.
There are some methods you can start doing today to train your dog to be calm when you leave home.
How Do You Know Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety manifests in many ways. Important to note, not all these symptoms are specific to separation anxiety and may be due to other causes.
- House Soiling: This is one of those symptoms that may have an underlying medical cause. So, take that into consideration and discuss with your vet if there are incontinence concerns. In addition, lack of access to proper places to eliminate, poor housetraining, and expecting dogs to hold their urine or bowel movements for an inordinate amount of time may also be the issue.
- Destructive Behavior: Dogs need to get their energy and anxiety out some way. Normal puppies play like this, but adult dogs exhibiting excessive howling, barking, and physical destruction of items in the home may be struggling to cope with their stress.
- Escape Efforts: If your dog tries to escape their crate, a room, or the house, this may indicate separation anxiety. Dogs may chew or claw through walls, doors, and windows.
What is Your Dog’s Threshold for Separation?
First thing to do is find your dog’s threshold for separation. If possible, set up a camera and watch your dog’s behavior when you leave the house. However long it takes for them to start exhibiting the anxious behavior tells you what their threshold is. It may be one minute, and it maybe ten. Just watch and listen.
What You Can Do to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Now that you know how quickly your dog gets anxious, you can work on some strategies to curb this behavior.
Use Cues to Show You’re Leaving
When your dog starts to feel anxiety, they are likely reacting to your leaving cues. This may be getting your keys, putting on your shoes, or grabbing your handbag.
The ASPCA advises, “One treatment approach to this “predeparture anxiety” is to teach your dog that when you pick up your keys or put on your coat, it doesn’t always mean that you’re leaving. You can do this by exposing your dog to these cues in various orders several times a day—without leaving.”
By doing this, you’ll teach them not to be fearful when you do these leaving cues. A reminder, if your dog has learned to be afraid over the years, it could be hard to change this habit. It may take you many times a day for many weeks to see any progress. Patience is crucial to your success.
If your dog isn’t necessarily anxious when you leave but after, you can skip straight to desensitizing them. Here’s what the ASPCA suggests, “To get started, train your dog to perform out-of-sight stays by an inside door in the home, such as the bathroom. You can teach your dog to sit or down and stay while you go to the other side of the bathroom door.”
Then, gradually increase the time you wait behind the door. Once you master an internal door of the house, move on to an exit door. Try a less-used back door for the first time. This will be less likely to trigger your dog.
Always move slowly and calmly. This way, there’s less contrast between coming, going and staying. As your dog’s behavior improves. Slowly increase the time you are away.
Will dog training help with separation anxiety? Absolutely. Will this be a long process? YES.
Consider this type of training a gradual, ongoing journey. Your dog may regress, express new triggers or not respond immediately to your efforts. That’s okay. There’s still hope.
Provide Lots of Physical Stimulation
Dogs need to exercise and be mentally stimulated. For anxious dogs, and all dogs if possible, give your dog 30 minutes of activity. Exercise before leaving them is a great idea as your dog will be tired and more likely to sleep while you’re away.
Play fun games with your dog, like tug-of-war or fetch. Food puzzle toys are another fun treat. Puzzle toys keep dogs busy and encourage licking and chewing. This naturally calms dogs.
What You Should NOT Do to a Dog with Separation Anxiety
You should never scold or punish your pet for their anxious behaviors. They do not do these things out of anger, disobedience, or spite. They are truly distressed. Stress can make animals (and people) do things they normally wouldn’t. Punishing them during these moments will only upset them more and likely increase the unwanted behavior.