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Home Alone

Helping dogs deal with separation anxiety

Kind News magazine, Dec 2015/Jan 2016

With practice and patience, you can teach your dog to be comfortable being left alone.  Photo by Rocket Room/Alamy

It's a busy Saturday morning. You rush through breakfast, feed and walk the dog, then run out the door to get to soccer practice on time.

A few hours later, the family returns home, only to find that your dog has trashed the living room. The curtains are on the floor, stuffing from pillows is scattered around the room---and your favorite pair of sneakers is chewed beyond recognition.

Before you overreact, stop and think. Your sweet pup wasn't misbehaving just for the fun of it. And she wasn't punishing you for leaving. Some dogs just panic when left alone. It's called separation anxiety.  They chew, dig or scratch to escape the house, all in an effort to be reunited with their family.

Dogs' Point of View

Think of it this way:  Dogs can't ask where you're going or when you'll be back. They can't call you on the phone. All they know is that they want to be with you and you're not there. They need to find you.

Some dogs have separation anxiety because they're naturally nervous. In other cases, normally calm dogs suddenly develop separation anxiety. It can be triggered by changes in the family's routine or a recent event that upset the dog---like the loss of a person or other animal member of the family.

But with practice and patience, you can teach your dog to be comfortable being left alone.

  • Giving your pet a stuffed toy to play with will keep her busy while you're away from home.  Photo by J. Clegg/iStock

Many Happy Returns

Start by putting on your jacket, then sit back down. Open and close the door, then sit down. After a while, walk out the door for 10 seconds, then 20, then a minute and so on. Little by little your dog will learn that when you leave, you will return.

Teach your dog a word or action that you use every time you leave that tells your dog you'll be back. 

Help comfort your dog while you're gone by leaving a piece of clothing that smells like you---like an old T-shirt that you've slept in recently. 

Before you leave, give your dog a toy stuffed with a treat. It will keep her busy while you're away and she'll enjoy the treat! 

Don't make a big deal out of coming and going. When you arrive home, ignore your dog for the first few minutes and then calmly pet her.

If your dog continues to become unusually upset when you leave, seek help. Don't let separation anxiety ruin a good relationship. Your veterinarian may recommend giving your dog medicine to keep her calm.

Learn more about helping pets with their fear of being alone.

Read more from this issue »
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