As you get ready for work, your dog starts his morning routine, too. Drooling. Panting. Pacing. You see this pitiful sight, and the guilt sets in. You can see the stress on your dog’s face, and guess what? He can see the stress on yours, too. Even before you get dressed and finish your coffee your dog is already anticipating your absence. Separation anxiety is a challenging problem, and often requires a multi-pronged approach. Serious cases may require medication, but behavioral modification is crucial to success.
To break the cycle of guilt and stress, you’ll have to become a bit of an actor. Dogs are incredible observers of our body language and attitudes. It makes sense to ‘practice’ the process of leaving, and desensitize your dog to the triggers that set him off.
Try the following steps to help your dog feel more relaxed about your absences:
- Think about the things you do before you leave the house. Do you lock a back door? Pick up a purse or briefcase? Pick up car keys? Now go through the motions of leaving, but instead of walking out the door, un-do the things you just did. Put the keys back, your purse; unlock the back door, etc. Go about your business as if nothing has occurred. Praise your dog in a very low-key way if he doesn’t react. Do this at least three times per day, especially in the morning before a long absence.
- If your dog is successful with exercise 1 (he is not reacting to the triggers), now take it a step further. Go through the motions of leaving as in exercise 1, but now walk out the door and lock it. Count to 5 only and re-enter. Don’t talk to the dog during this exercise, except to praise him in a low-key way when you return. If your dog seems calm during this exercise, increase your time away to a minute or two. When you leave and when you return, it should be no big deal. Do this at least twice per day.
Other ways to battle separation anxiety include: DAP plug-ins (DAP stand for Dog Appeasement Pheromones). These are synthetic equivalents to a pheromone secreted by the sebaceous glands around the nipples of a nursing bitch; designed to remind a dog of that very safe, secure, feeling the dog had as a puppy at his mother’s side. You can also try to give your dog a hiding place. If you know where your dog spends most of his time when you are gone, you can re-work that space to be more comforting. Try a folded blanket if your dog likes to dig. A covered spot, like under a desk or dining table, is good for a dog that wants to have a roof over his head. If your dog tries to hide in the closet, clear out a small space in his closet of choice and fold your blanket there.
The single, most helpful thing you can do for your dog before you leave is to exercise him. This does not mean a quick romp in the yard. A quality leash walk of at least 30 minutes, allowing him to sniff all his favorite spots,
will do more to help your dog relax than all the pheromones in the world.