Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chasing Away the Lonely Dog Separation Anxiety Blues

You're late for work again.

Dog walked. Briefcase packed. Iron off.

With a jangle of your keys and a "See ya later, pal" to your favorite mutt, you are out the door.

Ten steps later, it begins...

The howling.

Separation anxiety can creep back into your dog's life even as they enter their older years if you are not thoughtful about your "walking out the door" habits.

You may wish to set up a wireless camera to determine the serious of the issue first. This helps in particular if your living arrangements are in close proximity to others like a condo or apartment, where you can confirm if complaints of "your dog has been barking all day" are valid or have been addressed by the steps below.

The most effective way to combat separation anxiety is to not spend too much time on rituals that telegraph that you're leaving:

  • Jingling your keys 
  • Saying "good bye"
  • Running out the door in a hurry
All of these may not be in a big deal, but to a dog that just wants to be by your side and/or is nervous about being alone, they can very well trigger that "don't leave me!" response that you're trying to avoid. 

Next, don't change the conditions of the house, just because they're home alone. Leaving a radio or TV on doesn't replace human contact, but it does make a difference over a house that is dead silent all day. Some experts recommend not feeding your dog right before you leave, which goes towards the previous point on not changing conditions, however, I've had a lot of success using a Kong Wobbler (a food dispensing toy) to feed my older dog when I'm gone. He can spend a half hour chasing the ball around the living room, and by the time he's done, he's ready for a nap.

Finally, don't make too big a deal about coming home. This was a game changer for me. Originally I'd get down and embrace my dog as he ran up to me and wept at my coming home. It turns out that I was just reinforcing exactly what he was thinking according to some experts in that I'm better off (and safer) with him than on my own. Establishing that you're capable of getting things done without your dog gives them comfort to understand that you are the boss. I find that waiting a few minutes before greeting my dog after a long day helps to dial back the anxiety while still giving him 100% of the hugs that he's earned for being a good boy all day albeit a few minutes later.


The video that follows covers other tips and thoughts on the topic that may be helpful: