Help! My dog cannot be left at home alone!
Research has shown that up to 80% of dogs exhibit some sort of stress response when they are left at home alone, yet many owners are unaware that their dog shows signs of separation anxiety. The COVID pandemic may have increased the number of dogs with separation issues because many have never learned how to be left at home alone.
If you are arriving home to destruction, toileting (when your dog is otherwise toilet trained), or have been notified by neighbours that your dog is vocalising (or maybe you hear them as you leave or arrive home), it is pretty clear that your dog is struggling with separation anxiety when left at home alone. However, sometimes signs of stress are not as obvious and it is only when videoing the dog when they have left home alone that it becomes apparent that the dog cannot cope.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts for emotional support dog training for when you need to leave your dog at home alone:
14 Things you can DO to relieve separation anxiety for your dog:
1.Record your dog when they are at home alone using a doggy cam, an iPad or phone, or live watch using FaceTime or Skype. Do this on several different occasions and when your dog is left for differing lengths of time to see what they get up to.
2. When you are at home with your dog, provide activities that your dog finds enjoyable that they can do by themselves to help build independence, such as items to chew on or lick, things to destroy, sniffing and searching for things, or playing ball.
3. Encourage and reinforce independent behaviour when you are home as much as possible such as rewarding them for settling in their own bed.
4. Take your dog for a vet check and ensure there are no medical issues contributing to any separation distress. Dogs will be clingier and less likely to cope when they are feeling unwell or in pain.
5. Provide your dog with comfortable resting places with their dog blanket and give them choice about where to sleep in case they get hot or need to stretch out, for example.
6. Create a den that your dog can choose to retreat to at any time, whether you are at home or not.
7. Use Adaptil (the odourless odour that comforts dogs) to help your dog feel safer and more secure.
8. Block visual access at windows if your dog barks at activity outside the house.
9. Leave on TVs or radios if they are usually on when you are at home with your dog.
10. Build up the length of time your dog is left home alone gradually, and ensure your dog remains relaxed the whole time. You might need to start with a few seconds.
11. Recruit the help of friends, neighbours, family, community and borrowing sites to avoid your dog ever being left in a distressed state whilst you work on building up the time they can cope with.
12. Continue to use technology to live watch your dog whilst you build up periods of separation once you are ready to leave the house, to ensure your dog remains relaxed whilst you are out.
13. Play some separation anxiety games.
14. Seek professional help from a qualified Behaviourist =. Choose a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) who can work through a structured behaviour modification programme with you.
8 DON’T do these actions if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety
1. Don't hope that your dog will eventually grow out of it or stop showing signs of separation anxiety by themselves. Every time a dog becomes distressed when they are left home alone, the problem is becoming more engrained.
2. Don't leave your dog at home alone past the point of them coping – any training you do will be undone every time your dog becomes stressed in your absence.
3. Don't force your dog in a dog crate against their choice – it can be dangerous if a dog tries to break out of a crate. It is simply masking the problem and does not deal with the underlying anxiety your dog is experiencing about being left at home alone. A dog crate can be provided with free access in and out - this is best.
4. Don't deprive your dog of comfortable bedding or water at any time.
5. Don't turn the TV or radio on just when you are about to leave – this will become a cue for being left and can lead to distress before you have even gone.
Read More: 6 Tips for Photographing Your Dog
6. Don't ignore your dog when you return home – it is normal for dogs to reunite with owners after a period of absence. However, do keep greetings calm and low-key.
7. Don't rely on multiple Kongs, chews, and LickiMats to keep your dog entertained whilst you are out – dogs need to learn to settle even once the food item is finished.
8. Don't tell your dog off if you ever return home to find evidence of unwanted behaviour. Your dog is not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time and they will not associate the punishment with their behaviour. They will simply start becoming anxious about you returning home.
Rosie Bescoby is a Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist with a degree in Psychology and Zoology and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling, based in and around Bristol and North Somerset. Rosie is a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and registered as both a Clinical Animal Behaviourist and as an Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council.