There are many myths and uncertainties on what can prevent separation anxiety in dogs successfully.
In this article, we will discus:
When Can Separation Anxiety Develop?
Dogs can develop separation anxiety at any point in their life, from early puppy life, rehoming and lifestyle changes, we will go through some of the more common reasons below. It's always important to ease a dog into being left alone and those first few repetitions are crucial. Preventing separation anxiety before it happens is much better and easier that tackling it once it is already happening. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than a cure!
Separation Anxiety In Puppies
The most likely time dogs develop separation anxiety is during the more sensitive Critical Development Period which for puppies is the socialisation period up to 20 weeks old (socialisation period can vary between breeds).
Separation Anxiety in Rescue Dogs
For new rescue dogs, their first 3 months after entering the home should be their decompression period, this is a crucial time where separation anxiety can develop, so we need to watch for early signs and gradually desensitise them to being left alone.
Changes to the Dogs Life
Not all dogs cope well with sudden changes in the household so sudden changes in routines like getting a new job, moving house, departures of loved ones or other pets, breakdowns in relationships, children going off to university and even changes in your social life all have the potential of creating separation anxiety in dogs.
Currently, we are seeing lots of separation anxiety due to working from home during lockdown, then people going back to work.
Noise Related Phobias
If the dog has Phobias around loud noises or strange noises there is the possibility the dog may develop separation anxiety-related problems if an unusual amount of loud noise occurred when left alone eg building sites/diggers.
Preparing a Dog To Be Left Alone
We should never just leave a dog and hope for the best, this is often how separation anxiety starts. Imagine for a moment, you woke up one morning and suddenly realised everyone on earth had disappeared. Not only this, but your keys to leave your house were with someone else. You are now locked in your home with no outside help. How long before you start panicking? Well, up and leaving our dogs is no different, they are trap
ped and their whole world has disappeared, just like that. So here are a few ways in which we can help them.
Leaving mental stimulation/enrichment
For some dogs leaving food puzzles or encouraging calming exercises can reduce anxiety and in return can help reduce separation anxiety-related behaviours. Some ideas can be puzzles like Trixie and Nina Ottosson.
Exercises that can encourage calming in dogs are activities that include sniffing, licking and chewing. Sniffing activities could include Snuffle mats, hiding treats or activity mats for dogs.
Appropriate chews that dogs can be left with could include stuffed kongs or stuffed hooves, most chews available are recommended to only give when the dog is supervised.
Introduce being left alone gradually
When starting to practice leaving the dog alone don’t start with leaving them alone suddenly instead build up the duration gradually and at a pace the dog is comfortable with, not the speed you think the dog should be at.
· Start with leaving the dog in one room of the house when you go into a different room.
· Start with leaving them for a few seconds then returning and rewarding them. Repeat this stage for a few repetitions before increasing the time to 5 seconds alone, again repeat a few times going back to reward the dog between every repetition.
· Continue increasing the time from 5 seconds to 10 seconds – 15 seconds – 20 seconds – 30 seconds - 45 seconds – 1 minute and so on
· Then try repeating this stage with leaving the house
Always set your dog up for success
· Have somewhere comfy for the dog to go to relax when practicing leaving them. Leave them with plenty of calming activities close by to keep them entertained.
· Some studies have suggested leaving music on specifically classical or reggae can reduce stress levels in shelter dogs.
· Make sure they are exercised before leaving them as a bored dog is likely to be destructive.
Leaving an article of your clothing on/near the dog's bed can help reduce separation anxiety in some dogs if the dog has something that smells like the person the dog is pining over.
For some dogs leaving certain Scents in the home can prevent separation anxiety such as plug-ins, homeopathic remedies, zoopharmacognosy, aromatherapy and self-selection all include the dog ‘ingesting’ certain Scents or oils. Therefore it can be presumed that certain smells or oils may have benefits many of which could potentially help prevent separation anxiety.
However, vets should ALWAYS be consulted prior to starting complementary therapies.
Treating Separation Anxiety In Dogs
If your dog has already developed separation anxiety, it can be tricky and take some time to resolve. Have a read of our blog on Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs and this will guide you through the steps.
Alternatively, why not work with one of our specialist dog separation anxiety dog trainers in our Resolving Separation Anxiety Group Class or book a free assessment call with us and we can discuss 1:1 training.