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By Dr. Caitlin O’Donoghue
One of the best things about having a dog in your life is the sheer joy and love that they bring into even the most perfunctory of daily interactions with you. However, sometimes all that overwhelming love and unconditional devotion can have unintended consequences. A big one is dog separation anxiety. Our companions can love us so much that being apart from us causes them high levels of stress and anxiety, which almost inevitably lead to destructive and unwanted behaviors.
Separation anxiety can be frustrating and tough to manage, but the good news is that it IS manageable. It takes time and patience, but the silver lining is that at the end of the day your pup wants you to be happy with them just as badly as you want your dog to stop engaging in destructive behaviors. Depending on the severity of your dog’s reactions to you being away, it may require the intervention of a veterinary behaviorist to help provide you with bothmedical interventionand behavior modification techniques. Here are some general tips to help reduce separation anxiety in your pet.
Provide your pet with a specific location that they go when they need to be calm and settle. It can be a crate, a rug, or a mat. Slowly work with them on lying down and staying calm in that location for increasing amounts of time. Set them up for success: if they initially are only able to be calm for 30 seconds, make sure you reward them before they get too antsy and have to start over. Wherever they begin, go slow and work up from there.
Provide a favorite food filled toy or treat 15-20 minutes prior to leaving. This will keep them occupied and in a happy state of mind for your departure. You can try a Kong filled with frozen dog-friendly (low sodium, no garlic or onions) chicken or beef broth, or a meal-dispensing toy like the Busy Buddy.
Dogs are smart and quick to pick up on signs that you may be leaving them. Begin removing the association of you getting your keys, putting on a jacket, etc. with your imminent departure. Do these things when you’ll be remaining at home as well. That way they won’t serve as cues for your dog to get worked up and anxious.
One of the MOST important things to keep in mind is NO PUNISHMENT. It can be almost impossible not to react when you arrive home to find your favorite couch torn to shreds, but that reaction will just increase the levels of stress in your pup and make it even harder to overcome the problem. Train yourself not to react at all (which can be harder than training your dog…) when you first get home. No matter what you find, find your zen. Don’t pet or interact with your pup until they are calm and settled. Make sure to reward calm/settled behavior whenever you see it. Positive reinforcement of the behavior you like = more of that desired behavior.
Most of all, remember how much you and your pet love each other, and give yourself time and room to work on this bump in the road of life together. If you are patient and willing to take the time, it will only increase the depths of love and loyalty you share in the end.
If you’re struggling to manage your dog’s anxiety, you’re not alone, and we can help. Our vet team is available through the Fuzzy app.