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  1. dogs training and behavior

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How To Handle Dog Separation Anxiety While You’re Away for the Holidays

Posted by Dr. Roth on November 22, 2022

Lifestyle
Wellness Care
Training & Behavior
What to do if?
Stress & Anxiety
How To Handle Dog Separation Anxiety While You’re Away for the Holidays

Some dogs worry when their parents head out, and they often show distress when left alone. Dogs may behave like this whether they're puppies or seniors.

Anxious dogs aren't trying to punish their parents; their conduct is part of their panic response. Pet parents who know how to treat separation anxiety in dogs can prevent these behaviors.

Common Separation Anxiety Behaviors in Dogs

Every dog has a routine that includes human contact, and they sometimes develop behavioral issues when that pattern is disrupted. Dogs associate their human family with a positive experience, and their parent is often an attachment figure, so they feel safe in their presence. 

Over 75% of dogs feel insecure about their relationship with their pet parent when they're not in physical contact with them, and this causes them to develop a stress response. These pets experience separation anxiety just because they're separated from their guardians. 

However, some dogs also start showing signs of separation anxiety after a traumatic event like boarding or the death of a family member. They might begin to follow family members from room to room after another pet in their household dies.

All dogs deal with separation anxiety differently. Some harm themselves, while others destroy their environment. The signs of separation anxiety include:

  • House soiling

  • Excessive noise or vocalizations, such as howling or whining

  • Destructive behavior like knocking objects over

  • Temper tantrums

  • Depression and withdrawal

  • Chewing on their limbs or other self-harm 

  • Destroying windows and other objects around exit points 

  • Trying to prevent their parent from leaving 

  • Pacing in circular patterns or straight lines when their guardian is absent

  • Greeting their parents as though they haven't seen them for years when they return home

When separated from their guardians, dogs with separation anxiety sometimes try to escape the area of confinement. While trying to chew or dig through doors and windows, these dogs sometimes sustain injuries, such as cuts and broken teeth. Pet parents can use several methods to prevent this.

Tips for Handling Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Animals try to communicate their discomfort and insecurities through their behavior. They have to learn to resolve their anxiety by tolerating, or even enjoying, being left alone.

Getting upset or punishing an anxious dog will only make the problem worse. Pet parents can use training and other preventative measures to reduce or stop anxious behavior in their dogs.

Encourage Mental Stimulation With Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys can help to reduce a dog's separation anxiety by exercising their mind and body. Toys for dogs with separation anxiety reduce stress while enhancing brain function. They reward dogs who learn how to remove hidden treats with their paws.

When dogs only get specific interactive dog toys when their parents are absent, it removes stress from the experience of being left on their own. This technique is called counterconditioning and focuses on helping dogs associate being alone with puzzles and other things they enjoy.

Pet parents can stuff a Kong toy with their dog's favorite food. Their dog will slowly work to release cream cheese, peanut butter, or another high-value food from this interactive toy. They'll gradually learn to associate their guardian's absence with a positive experience. 

Dog parents can also regularly walk their pets in new parts of their neighborhood since sniffing new places helps to reduce anxiety. Where possible, it's good for parents to give a dog adequate exercise before they leave.

Don't Make a Grand Exit When You Leave the House

Pet parents often want to know how to help dogs with separation anxiety. Still, they don't realize that giving extra affection or marking their exit in another significant way could make their dogs depressed. Dogs might start to whine when they notice pre-departure cues, such as seeing their guardians applying makeup or picking up car keys. 

Parents can break this association by exposing their dog to the cues without actually leaving. For example, they can put on makeup and just sit and watch television.

Pet parents should talk to their dogs calmly whenever they leave home or return from work. They can also train their dog to recognize a safe word or action they use whenever they're leaving to signal that they'll be back.

Implement Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement can help to alleviate separation anxiety in dogs. Parents use this to shape relaxed behavior in their pets by teaching them that remaining calm leads to rewards. 

Dogs can learn commands, such as sit-stay and down-stay. Each training session teaches them that they can remain calm in one area while their pet parent is elsewhere.

Try Calming Chews, Sprays, or Drops

Pet parents can use a calming product to make their dog less fearful. The best calming aid for dogs with separation anxiety contains chamomile, valerian, and other dog-safe herbs, which are natural sedatives. Calming chews and sprays can make other aspects of treatment progress more rapidly. 

Some dogs benefit significantly from calming supplements and anti-anxiety medication. This may make them more receptive to behavior modification training and environmental changes over time. The medication or supplement helps them relax and become accustomed to being on their own.

Use Desensitization Training Techniques

Desensitization training techniques are essential aspects of dogs' separation anxiety training, but they take time to work. With desensitization, pet parents can get their puppy accustomed to their absence by leaving them alone for incrementally longer periods. 

Pet parents can increase their absence by a few minutes each time they're away until their dog becomes used to them being absent for hours. Parents can consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) for help designing a unique desensitization plan for their pet.

What To Do About Severe Separation Anxiety 

Dog separation anxiety can result in several problems, including self-injury and property damage. With the help of veterinarian-approved methods, dogs can learn to enjoy being on their own.

Sign up for a Fuzzy membership and start talking to a qualified veterinarian in minutes about techniques and training exercises that can help a dog’s separation anxiety.

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