Home Alone (How to prevent separation anxiety)

dog on bedAre you and your dog inseparable at the moment? Spending time together during the day walking, training, playing or just enjoying each other’s company?

These are all great ways to build your bond with your dog. However your relationship with your canine companion may become compromised when you start to leave your dog alone for longer periods of time, especially if there has been a change in your routine recently and you have been home more than usual. Dogs are highly social animals and a sudden change as you return to work or leave your dog alone for hours at a time can be challenging for your dog to understand.

Sometimes dogs can develop Separation Anxiety which is the inability to tolerate or cope well with being left alone. Separation Anxiety can range from mild to severe with symptoms that can include any or all of the below to varying degrees.

  • Following you around the home from room to room and not leaving your side in particular when you are getting ready to leave home
  • Whining, panting, pacing, drooling and a general inability to settle when left alone at home
  • Digging, chewing and destructive behavior including attempts to escape through doors, windows and crates which can result in self injury and harm
  • Urinating or defecating indoors when you are NOT at home
  • Howling and barking excessively when you are NOT at home

If your dog is showing any of these behaviors and even if not, the below guidelines should help your dog adjust to a change in your routine reducing overall anxiety and stress when left alone at home. You can also check out our video: 5 Tips to Prevent Separation Anxiety on Youtube.

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  • Create a daily routine for your dog that includes consistent times for; waking and going to bed at night, meal times twice daily, outdoor daily walks and play time with toys and a
  • Whether you are working remotely and are at home or you are leaving the home during the day, try to follow the same routine as best you can every day so that your dog has some consistency. This then helps your dog be able to predict the day’s activities and this in turn reduces stress for your dog as they know better what is expected from them each day.
  • Make sure to have provided enough activity including mental stimulation and physical exercise before leaving your dog for an extended period of time. This may include a walk
    outdoors for at least 20 minutes with opportunities to explore and sniff for as long as your dog needs to, practicing obedience training and playing with your dog and a toy.
  • Always confine your dog to the same safe room or place that includes your dog’s bed with familiar scents and bedding, a variety of rotating new and non destructible favorite toys that your dog likes and access to fresh water whenever you leave your dog alone.
  • Provide audio enrichment and create a calm atmosphere for your dog by turning on some soothing classical music, an audio book or the television every time you leave home. This
    will help to indicate to your dog that this is a time for relaxing and will help to drown out any noise from the outside.
  • Every time you leave home provide your dog with a high value edible item such as a frozen stuffed Kong or healthy chew, treats hidden in a puzzle game or at the very least several high value treats left on your dog’s bed. This is to help keep your dog engaged for the first few crucial minutes when you leave the home and also keeps them close to their bed which helps to prevent them following you out the door as you leave. When returning home remove any enrichment items and save for the next time.
  • When leaving the home use the same phrase to say ‘good bye’ or ‘see you soon’ each time and do not provide your dog with excessive attention when departing or returning home.
  • Practice short departures and longer departures using the same routine and within the home also by closing the door behind you as you go to another room even for as little as a few minutes. The will help to start to desensitize your dog to being left alone.
  • Practice obedience training with your dog using positive reinforcement training methods so that it is an enjoyable experience for you and your canine companion. This will help your dog to learn and motivate your dog to perform these rewarding behaviors which then helps your dog to feel more confident and secure. You can teach and practice with your dog to Sit, Down, Come, Stay, Go to Bed and more and for as little as 10 minutes daily. Then you can try asking your dog to ‘Go To Bed’ in a nice tone of voice, reward with the high value food
    item on his/her bed as you leave home.
  • Practice teaching your dog a ‘Find It’ game so that you can hide favored toys and/or food rewards in the home. Your dog may spend some time trying to locate them, which will keep
    your dog busy and mentally engaged.
  • Use available resources if needed from family, friends, neighbors, a professional dog walker or pet sitter by, asking for help to spend at least an hour with your dog in the middle of the day to provide companionship, physical exercise and play when you will be gone for many hours.
  • Don’t overexcite or overstimulate your dog as this can have the opposite effect by making it more difficult for your dog to relax when you leave. Observe your dog’s behavior after physical exercise and activity to determine what type of physical exercise and activity is best and how long is optimal for your individual dog. A healthy balance of mental stimulation and physical activity is usually more beneficial such as a combination of obedience training and outdoor walking.
  • Don’t punish your dog for house training accidents, destructiveness or excessive barking. It will not change this behavior and will damage your relationship by reducing trust and exacerbating fear and stress. Instead use preventative and management techniques by removing valuable items and securing your dog in the confined space properly and by following the above guidelines. Also remember if your dog is in distress this is not a chosen behavior for the purposes of punishing the owner – these are human interpretations of canine behavior.

If your dog’s behavior is not alleviated by following the above guidelines do seek advice from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer or Certified Veterinary Behaviorist who has experience treating Separation Anxiety and who uses only science based Positive Reinforcement Training methods. Rest assured that if your dog has developed Separation Anxiety this behavior problem is treatable and will take time, patience and action on your part to help your dog overcome this problem.

By Sara Taylor CABI CPDT-KA, spcaLA Director of Animal Behavior & Training

Please note, articles in the Animal Resource Library are for reference only, and are not meant to diagnose or treat any medical or behavioral issues your pet may be experiencing.