If you’re a parent to a dog with separation issues, the word “vacation” might make you more stressed out than relaxed. Even with a loving dog sitter, separation anxiety in dogs can be persistent. Luckily, there are several things you can to do give your dog the confidence to cope while you’re away.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Prevention
Separation anxiety in dogs occurs more frequently when dogs aren’t sure who the pack leader is. Your dog relaxes when he knows you’re in charge. Make sure you’re taking the reins on your daily walks and play sessions. Take time for short “training breaks” throughout your day, with lots of praise for great results. Whether you’re asking for a sit or a trick before meals, giving treats, petting, or taking a trip in the car, your dog should be prepared to participate with you as the leader.
The not-so-long goodbye
Keep greetings and departures calm. Separation anxiety in dogs increases when they sense that you’re nervous about leaving, too. If your dog is hysterical when you come home, ensure that you don’t give attention until your dog is calm and able to sit quietly. Similarly, if your dog knows your “leaving the house ritual” too well, desensitize the dog to the various steps. For example, try putting on your coat and grabbing your car keys—and then watch TV for 20 minutes.
To help your dog feel confident and independent, it’s important to set and maintain boundaries. You should be the instigator for all petting and physical affection during this time. If you regularly cuddle with your dog on the couch, he needs to sit and be invited first. Sleeping in the bed is also off limits until your dog can spend a night happily away from home.
Make sure your dog has a bed in your bedroom and that you put it right by the big bed. If your dog is disinterested in his new bed, you can “charge” it by feeding him meals on his bed, and doing training practice with lots of tasty rewards and/or petting while he’s on this bed. This is a great opportunity to teach you dog, “Go to bed” or a similar command. As your dog warms up to his new favorite place, you can use it as a good base for longer Sit-Stays, working toward exiting the house and coming back to your dog—hopefully on his bed!
Separation Anxiety in Dogs: When You’re Away
Vary your schedule occasionally
A dog with a varied schedule is less likely to be disturbed by changes in routine. Try mixing up the weekly routine with a dog walker, doggie daycare, or play dates with friends. Make sure you try a single-night sleepover before booking an extended stay to see how it all will go. Maybe there’s a “staycation” or dog-free date night in your future!
Familiar items when away from home
Find a loving sitter or doggy daycare provider for your dog if you have to travel. In-home environments are typically more comforting than kennels or busy locations. When you have to part company, make sure your dog has his familiar bed, toys, food, and maybe a well-worn shirt of yours for comfort. A special treat he only receives when you’re gone, or a toy he only has when you aren’t there, could also help.
Separation anxiety in dogs is often reduced when they get a walk. Taking your dog for a nice long walk before you leave for the day or on a trip sets him up naturally for “down time.” Don’t have time? Consider hiring a local dog walker, which is well worth the cost. A tired dog is happier. He’s eliminated, he’s worn out, and he’s ready for a nap. Regular daily exercise helps your dog work out tensions and anxieties that may be building up.
Consider supplemental items suggested by your trainer or veterinarian
Rescue Remedy and other natural calming aids, ThunderShirts, and even prescription medication are all possible additions to the good training you’re working on. The professionals who know your dog best may have other specific recommendations for your situation. And lastly, make sure you’ve ruled out any possible medical conditions that could be exacerbating your dog’s anxiety.
For more, check out this quick tips video:
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.