When I adopted my Cocker Spaniel three years ago, her separation anxiety was so bad that she would cry the entire time when I left the house. I know this because I’d stand outside, listening to her wail until I couldn’t take it any longer—and then I’d rush back in, and tearfully promise her that I’d never leave her again. That lasted until the groceries ran out and the kids needed to go to school and I realized how impractical my promise was. Eventually, Lola got over her separation anxiety, but it was hard for both of us—and I made it even harder because I didn’t know how to handle it. Thankfully, there are ways to make it easier on you and your pup, says Sally Morgan, a holistic physical therapist for pets. “Reducing anxiety is not a quick fix sort of issue, and it takes a lot of patience and understanding from the person to address it effectively,” she says. We got the scoop on how to help your pup overcome that panic when you leave.
Learn the signs
Many people think their dogs are being naughty, when it’s really a case of separation anxiety, explains Robin Bennett, a Colorado-based certified professional dog trainer. “Some of the common signs include destructive behavior, particularly chewing, having accidents or excessive vocalizations when left alone,” she says. Some dogs will refuse to eat or drink, and others will pace or dig. These can also be symptoms of other issues, though—your pup may not have enough exercise or mental stimulation—so the correct diagnosis is important, Bennett says.
Address the loneliness
Some dogs are calmed (and kept company) by the sounds of soothing music, Morgan says. Leave on a classical station, or try iCalm Pet, which plays tunes proven to calm pups, like Beethoven’s Pathetique, verrrrrrrry slowly. Similarly, leaving the TV on can help, Morgan says: DogTV is a cable channel with programming research shows helps calm pups—specifically footage of dogs playing at a fast pace. Even the sounds are soothing—the shows include positive affirmations and calming noise frequencies.
Offer some distraction
Chew toys like these that will keep your pup busy (and distract them from your absence) might help alleviate some of the anxiety, Bennett says. Likewise, leaving out treats that take a long time to eat—like peanut butter frozen in a Kong—will keep your pup pleased while you’re away, says Val DeSantis, a certified master trainer and behaviorist in Canon City, Colorado. There’s also the new Petcube Bites Camera that allows you to monitor and talk to your pup from afar, and dispense treats while you're away!
Keep your cool
The key with separation anxiety is not to play into it. “If he’s crying and carrying on and you come right back because of it, the dog will learn that this works,” DeSantis says. “That’s why a lot of times, we create the problem.” Instead of long goodbyes, try ignoring your pup before leaving (trust us, we know how hard this is for both of you). This will show your dog that saying “goodbye” is no biggie. Same for coming home. Your dog will be excited to see you, but don’t make it a HUGE deal (again, we know this can be more challenging for us humans!)
Consider the crate
For many dogs, crate training them does wonders: It becomes their safe space, just like your bedroom may be yours—and the place they go to when they’re feeling scared or upset that you’re not there. DeSantis suggests that the crate be one and a half to two times their size so that it’s cozy, but still gives them enough room to move. Dogs with severe separation anxiety may need to work with a behavior professional first, and in extreme cases, medication like Amitriptyline (an antidepressant) may be warranted, Bennett says. Either way, always make sure your pup is getting enough stimulation: A regular dog walker or a few visits weekly to a doggie daycare can help pups be more relaxed when left home alone, Morgan says.