Separation anxiety is a behavioural issue I come across frequently. We all want our dogs to feel happy and content so here are my top five tips for helping to build your dog’s confidence, independence, and ability to settle and relax when physically away from you.
1) Exercise your dog before leaving them
This is beneficial for all dogs, but particularly if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. Effectively exercising your dog will help to drain some of your dog’s energy, energy that they might otherwise put into worrying about being left. A well exercised dog is also more likely to settle and rest in your absence than one who is raring to go! Similar to the benefits that exercise has on us as humans, exercise has a positive effect on the mental wellbeing of our dogs and can help to keep them calm.
2) Give your dog something to do
Just like us humans, dogs can and will get bored when left alone with nothing to do. This boredom can promote and exacerbate any anxiety they might be prone to feeling when physically away from you. By offering your dog something to do in your absence you can provide mental stimulation and outlet for your dog, helping to keep boredom and anxiety at bay. A food dispensing toy is perfect for this activity and Barking Heads have a wide range of yummy treats and nutritional food items that you can fill them with. Start by making the food easy to remove and, as your dog’s interest builds and they become more expert at reaching the food, you can up the challenge! For the expert ‘gamer’, you can even freeze some of the Barking Heads wet food in some types of rubber food dispensing toys to ensure they last a little longer!
3) Create a calm environment for your dog to relax in
Playing classical or soft music can help your dog to relax. Classic FM is always a winner in my house! Music can also help to drown out any external noises that might otherwise cause your dog to worry. A nice comfortable and inviting bed can also help your dog to relax in your absence.
4) Set and practice ‘the scene’ when you are in
By this I mean practice asking your dog to be physically away from you when you are at home together. We want our dogs to feel confident and build their independence so that when they are away from us they are able to feel comfortable, relaxed and content in our absence rather than anxious. An easy way to set and practice the scene initially is to use a light barrier such as a baby gate so your dog can still see you but is physically distanced from you. Once they are able to relax in this context this can then be built on, with further distances and times away from you practiced and achieved. Practice little and often and build up the time and distance that you are asking them to be away from you slowly, teaching your dog there is nothing to worry about if you are not by their side 100% of the time. Don’t be afraid to go back a step if need be and don’t forget to complete steps 1, 2 & 3 before each practice session!
5) Be calm on your return to your dog
We want our dogs to learn that us coming and going throughout the day is normal and not a big deal or to be feared. By not making a big deal out of leaving them or returning to them we can help them to understand this.