Families returning to full-time work and school is stressful for everyone – including your dogs. Dogs are social animals and by nature don’t usually like being alone. A sudden change to a routine they are familiar with can cause anxiety in pets and it is important to ensure steps are taken to lessen the stress.
Many dogs adjust to their family being gone all day but others have a harder time. If a dog is destructive when left alone, it’s important to determine if he is just bored or if he is suffering from separation anxiety. If he’s just bored, there are easy fixes for that. If he is truly stressed it’s time to get him some help.
Separation anxiety is the distress experienced by a dog when separated from his family. It typically manifests within 30 minutes of being left alone. It results in destructive behavior such as barking, chewing, digging and even urination and defecation. In severe cases, a dog may try to escape, causing damage to the home and harm to the dog. Some health conditions could cause similar behaviors, like inappropriate urination, so it’s important to see your veterinarian first to rule out any medical problems.
If you are able, start by consulting with a behavior specialist. They can work with you to set up a training plan to help relieve your dog’s anxiety and keep him safe. For dogs with severe anxiety, this is essential.
If you don’t have access to a behavior specialist, there are things you can do on your own. The idea is to desensitize your dog to being alone.
Practice leaving without going out the door. Put on your shoes, get your keys, and walk to the door. Do that several times a day and give your dog a treat every time he remains calm.
Make the experience of coming or going as unexciting as possible. No hugs and kisses, no long good-byes, no petting. As you leave, give your dog a treat, say a simple “I’ll be back” and walk out. The treat helps associate your leaving with a good thing.
When you return, be just as calm. Don’t acknowledge the dog until you’ve put your things away and can calmly say hello. Do this every time you leave and every time you come home.
Another exercise is to go into a closet, close the door and wait for a minute. If your dog is calm, increase the time to two minutes. Then three minutes. If three minutes is too much, go back to two minutes. Once your dog is comfortable with 5 minutes, do the same thing going out the front door.
These are just a few of the simple things you can try to help with your dog’s anxiety. You can find more resources online by visiting www.bchumane.org/help-with-common-pet-problems/.