We often get people calling us to help with their dog that has started to suffer when left. Separation related issues cause distress for all involved, human and canine. These issues have possibly become worse following the lockdowns where everyone had to stay home. The dogs got used to having someone around all the time and then all of a sudden they are left alone. Dogs are naturally social animals who like company, so being left alone can cause them to be anxious. The level of anxiety can vary from the dog that cries for a few minutes when left to the dog that wrecks the house.
There are a number of underlying motivations that can cause a dog to suffer separation related issues: fear, anxiety, over attachment, inappropriate stimulation, lack of opportunity for toileting, hunger, pain or other medical issue. Separation related issues can manifest in a variety of behaviours such as:
Excessive or unusual motor activity
Lack of appetite
The behaviour may also have different levels depending on the individual dog and the level of motivation causing the behaviour.
To be able to help the dog overcome these issues and be comfortable when left it is necessary first to discover the reason for the behaviour. To do this we need to evaluate the dog by considering the presenting indications and history such as:
When did the behaviour start
What are the triggers
How long can the dog be left before the behaviour commences
There are a number of things you can do to help your dog to not develop separation related issues but if they are already displaying anxiety when left then you may need professional help depending on the severity.
Here are a few top tips to help start you off:
Make sure your dog has toileted.
If your dog hasn’t toileted this could cause them discomfort if they don’t want to soil in the house. Or they may toilet in the house out of desperation.
Make sure your dog isn’t hungry.
A hungry dog won’t be able to rest – think about how hunger pangs affect you!
Make sure your dog has access to fresh water.
It’s a basic welfare need!
Make sure your dog has had some mental stimulation.
A dog is more likely to settle if they have had some mental stimulation, it tires and calms the dog.
Make sure your dog is calm.
If you have just been for a walk or been playing with your dog they are likely still in an excited state which will make it difficult for them to settle down when you leave. Licking and chewing can help to calm a dog.
Make sure your dog has a comfortable place to rest with a warm and cool surface
Providing a warm comfortable bed but also a cooler place to rest is important, then your dog has choice.
If your dog is already suffering with separation related issues then it is vital you get help as soon as possible. If you’re not sure how anxious your dog is when left leaving a camera on can help you to see them and guage the level of distress. Here are a few things you can do to help whilst you deal with the problem:
Make sure you have covered all the points above first of all!
Leave some form of audio on.
Studies suggest reggae music is most helpful, possibly because of the regular beat which could be soothing. Audio books have also been found useful. The TV isn’t such a good idea as the noise level can fluctuate depending on the programme and if your dog is also sound sensitive there could be loud bangs for example which will make them even more anxious. Likewise, radio, even Classic FM can have variable levels and different moods of music.
Leave something with your scent on with your dog.
This may help to soothe them.
Change the routine you have when leaving your dog
If the dog senses they are going to be left this may prevent them from building into an anxious state. BUT it must be noted, some dogs prefer a routine so this really depends on each individual dog.
Build up the amount of time you leave your dog gradually
This can mean starting to leave your dog for a minute or even a few seconds at a time. Ensuring they begin to realise you will come back to them and they are safe.
If you have just taken on a rescue dog then its advisable to take some holiday from work. This gives you time to build a relationship with your dog and help them to feel safe in their new home. Puppies also need time to settle in and feel safe and secure.
We are here to offer help and advice if you need it.