As a dog owner, you know full well that you are your fluffy friend’s absolute favorite person. And in a perfect world, you might choose to have your pooch by your side 24/7. But eventually, most of us do have to leave our homes for one reason or another. And that beautiful bond between you and your pup can become a bit of a problem as your dog gets worried about your whereabouts until you return. If your dog howls, barks, and cries out for attention as you prepare to leave or when you come back to your home, you might be dealing with a classic case of separation anxiety.
Destructive behavior like carpet digging, garbage diving, and shoe chewing while you’re out and about can be signs that indicate your dog is feeling nervous when you’re not around. The good news is that routine building and some intentional distractions are usually all you need to help your pup cope with missing you.
Do some detective work
Before you figure out a solution to your dog’s separation anxiety, you’ll need to figure out if there’s a specific trigger that’s contributing to it. Put on your pet psychologist hat and try to see the situation from your dog’s perspective, identifying any new stressors or changes that could be heightening any anxiety your dog feels when you’re not home.
Maybe an unusually active month or two of social commitments is creating confusion for your dog. Maybe a new partner, family member, or baby has recently joined your household and your dog is getting less attention than they are used to. Maybe you’ve moved and your pup isn’t feeling quite at home with their new setup just yet. Whatever the case may be, if you can deduce why your dog feels so nervous when you’re away, you’ll be a step closer to helping them feel more comfortable when they’re left alone.
Establish soothing rituals and routines
Just like many humans, dogs are comforted by rhythms and routines.
When you leave your home for a few hours, don’t call a lot of attention to the fact that you’re leaving or act like your departure is a big deal. A quick “Bye, Rover!” is enough to indicate you’re headed out the door. Try to say the same signal word every time you walk out the door. After a while your dog will start to associate that word with comfort as they begin to understand that “Goodbye!” (or whatever word you choose) means that you’re coming back. If your dog whines or howls when you head out, try your best not to respond to this behavior.
Go through a similar routine when you return. When you walk back in the door of your home, try to take a few moments before you give your dog attention. If your dog starts to bark excitedly or jumps on you when you come back, don’t reward that behavior with a lot of attention.
Leave Rover what he needs
Go through a mental checklist of everything your dog needs before you step out. Leaving your dog with something constructive -- or at least not destructive -- to do to fill the hours when you’re not home will help curb the desire to act out. Busy toys, like treat dispensers and teething sticks, can give your dog a way to blow off nervous energy.
Make sure to take your dog outside to do their business right before you leave home. Leaving your dog for more than 8 hours without a potty break will result in bad behavior as your pup gets anxious.
Be kind if you confine
If you feel like your dog is so anxious that they can’t be trusted, confine them to one room in your house whenever you’re gone. Make sure there’s plenty of light, windows, and ventilation wherever you leave your dog, and stock any confinement area with blankets or a doggie bed for naps as well as an unwashed item of your clothing (like yesterday’s socks) for them to snuggle with. Never leave your dog for an extended period of time without fresh water to drink while you are gone.
While it can be frustrating to figure out how to calm your anxious pal down, it’s important to try to empathize with your dog during the process. Remember that your dog isn’t trying to make you angry -- they are trying to communicate with you, and it’s your job to respond.
As you figure out a plan to put your pup at ease, there are several guiding rules for what not to do. Locking your dog in a crate, punishing your dog, yelling at your dog, and isolating your dog won’t relieve separation anxiety. Getting a new puppy to be a “companion” for your dog is likely to worsen anxiety and won’t provide a distraction. And while investing in formal obedience lessons from a trained professional is never a bad idea, separation anxiety can’t be “cured” by obedience training.
If you aren't seeing progress within a few months, you should consider consulting your vet to ensure your pup's stress is not stemming from an underlying medical issue. For most pups and their humans, progress can happen if you stay patient and consistent.