I know a lot of us have been there before. Maybe you've come home to a half eaten sofa, or you get a noise complaint from neighbors when you leave your dog at home. It can be really frustrating and it's not a very easy habit to break! If your dog exhibits these symptoms or seems stressed when you're away, they may suffer from separation anxiety!
We've dealt with our fair share of separation anxiety in our dog Blossom and let me tell you, it's NOT fun. This article will cover our personal experience with mild-severe separation anxiety, and what methods have been best for helping our dog "recover" from it. Every dog is different, and should likely be taken to a professional for an accurate behavioral analysis.
How It All Started
Our dogs separation anxiety started when he was a very young pup and this is very common for them. At first, I thought he was just going through a phase because he is just a puppy after all, right? I would come home to chewed shoes, couch cushions, occasionally he'd have an accident or whine for a few minutes. As he got older, he stopped showing some of these anxiety symptoms, but some of them stuck around to get even worse!
Some symptoms of separation anxiety include:
Barking / Whining / Howling
Not Eating or Drinking Water
For us personally, howling and accidents were the two main symptoms that Blossom kept going into adulthood. When I say he would howl, I mean it. It got to a point where our housing options were limited because we didn't want to have neighbors so close that he would bother them. This was when we said enough was enough, and started doing some investigating into what could be done to ease his stress.
It didn't take long before we realized this wasn't going to be a quick fix. It was going to take weeks, months, maybe even years of conditioning to get him where we wanted him to be. We learned to start small, leaving for a few minutes at a time and rewarding him if he was quiet. It would work in practice, but it never really seemed to stick for times we would be gone for a couple hours. After talking to a couple professionals, we finally found a few things that helped make a big difference in his behavior after we left the house.
Exercise has been by far the most effective deterrent of anxiety caused behaviors in our dog. If we take him outside and run him until he's tired, or even take him on a long walk, he'll barely lift an eye when we leave the house. A tired dog is a content dog in most cases, and we wouldn't hear a peep unless we were gone for a really long time. While it can take a considerable amount of time, I'd highly advise making sure your pup is thoroughly worn out before going to other potential solutions. For me, I let him roll around in the grass while I take some pictures and get some work done. Easy!
Blossom's environment played a huge role in his stress level when we were away. Instead of just letting them roam the house in silence, here are a few tips! Dogs prefer enclosed spaces, it makes them feel safe! One thing we would always make sure of is to pick an appropriate room for our fur baby to hang out in until we get home. If your dog is crate trained, USE IT! We never crate trained Blossom, so we close him in our TV room with some toys and some clothes that smell like me. We also make sure to have the TV on animal planet or play some relaxing music so that he doesn't get too wound up by noises he hears outside. I make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature and I often run a fan for some additional white noise. Not only will these things help your dog relax, but it may also help drown out some whining noises if your doggo starts to get a little worked up!
Dogs are very aware of routine. Every time you grab the leash, they know they're going outside. If you grab their food, they know it's time to eat. As such, when you start getting ready to leave or you grab your car keys, they know you're about to leave. When your dog senses this they begin to get stressed, anticipating your departure. For this reason, we always change up our routine to try and desensitize Blossom from the things that he would normally associate with us going away. Try picking up your keys, walking around the house, and setting them down. Do it enough times and your dog won't get so excited when you grab your keys. You can do these same exercises with bags, putting on shoes, or going near doors. I often leave special treats or toys out when we leave so he begins to associate my leave with positive things! Keeping blossom on his toes has been a huge help with minimizing his anxiety.
At the end of the day, every dog is an individual and things that worked for my fur baby may not work for yours! We found these methods to be very successful, but we are still working on it! After about a year, we find he will only throw a fit if there is something new added into the mix. If I leave with a guest he likes he may decide to cry for a few minutes, or if he doesn't get enough exercise he may get restless after a couple hours.
It's not an easy path of recovery, and consistency will play a huge role in your own success! If you find that things get continually worse, I would highly recommend hiring a professional to help put together a program that will work best to relieve your pet. I'm a strong believer that with enough consistency and patience, our animals will learn from us and we can help guide them down a path to a happier, more stress-free life.
Leave a comment below and let us know about your dogs separation anxiety journey, and what helped them the most!