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Separation anxiety affects dogs much like how it affects us humans. The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has shown many of us how important it is that we have regular contact and socialisation with family and loved ones. Aristotle said that we are zoon politikon, animals of the polis, or city-state, or society. We need each other.
Man’s best friend needs us, too. It’s true that some pastoral dog breeds can stay out in the fields for days at a time without seeing their owners, but most domesticated household dogs feel separation anxiety after a certain length of time.
Take terriers, for example. These little pups can unleash devastation in and around your home when they’re left alone for more than a few hours. Every dog is different in how they react, and much of these differences come down to their breed. Here are some examples of what dogs can do when left alone too long:
- Excessive barking, whimpering, crying;
- Chewing (shoes, furniture, etc.), digging (flowerbeds, gardens);
- Eliminating in the house;
- Hyperactivity or aggression;
- Irregular eating habits.
If your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety, it’s possible to reverse these bad habits and to bring your relationship back to being a happy and healthy one. Here are five tips to resolve separation anxiety with your dog:
1. MAINTAIN A CONSISTENT ROUTINE
Dogs love routine, owing to their natural tendency of obedience towards their owners. Failure to provide them with routine, such as taking them for a walk at different times every day (or skipping days altogether), can lead to your dog not knowing what to expect from you.
When leaving for work in the morning, develop a consistent routine and remain calm even if your dog is energetic to get you out of bed. Wake up, make coffee, brush your teeth… do what you need to do in an orderly fashion and your dog will become accustomed to your morning habits, including the moment you step out the door. This will ensure that they’re calm and composed when you leave and give them reassurance every morning.
2. BUILD GOOD EXPECTATIONS, BREAK BAD ONES
Your dog’s obedience is closely linked to your movements and body language. Remaining calm and composed will encourage your dog to do the same. One habit that’s worth breaking (for your puppy or dog), however, is getting up. Yes, standing up from your sofa, for example.
Getting up signals to your dog that you’re leaving and going somewhere. They may perk up and want to follow you around, but they do need to learn some independence as well. Try getting up once in a while but going nowhere.
Get up and stretch, pretend to look for keys on the coffee table, etc. Your dog will start to learn that by simply getting up you aren’t leaving him every time. This can help him remain calm and not get too emotional when you’re leaving.
3. KEEP THEM MENTALLY STIMULATED
Exercise and doggy games are healthy for you and your dog, and it keeps them mentally and physically stimulated for the time being. When you’re gone, however, they should still find ways to keep stimulated so as to avoid destructive behaviour.
One way of achieving this is by purchasing a high-quality, durable dog toy such as a Kong which will keep them busy whilst you’re gone for short periods. If you’ve chosen a Kong, fill it with tasty treats that will reward them for staying focussed on their toy (rather than chewing your leather furniture).
4. A TIRED DOG IS A HAPPY DOG
It’s been said many times before and it’s worth saying again: a tired dog is a happy dog. No matter the breed, dogs, like young children, need a productive way of venting all of their seemingly endless energy.
Whether it’s in the morning or in the evening after work, you must take your dog out for healthy physical exercise. Exactly how much depends on the breed, but nearly all breeds must be able to play outdoors for at least half an hour a day. Make sure that their exercise is vigorous and your dog will stay healthy and happy.
5. AVOID LONG PERIODS OF ISOLATION
If you’re leaving home for a holiday or for longer than a few hours, you should not leave your dog home alone. Dog sitters, dog walkers, and doggie day cares are a growing industry in the UK, and for good reason. This is no substitute for spending time with you, however, it will provide your dog with that all important human/dog interaction whilst you are unable to.
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