Separation Anxiety can be common in shelter dogs. It is important to address the behavior before it escalates. Below, are standard suggestions to help set dogs on a path to help ease separation anxiety. You may have already tried some of these techniques; if so, let us know and we will further advise.
The first step to addressing separation anxiety is to increase physical exercise and mental stimulation. A tired dog is a good. For Physical exercise, think more often rather than longer sessions due to the animal’s impressive recuperation rate. Mental exercise can be met with training sessions, interactive toys such as a Kong filled with peanut butter, and even meal dispensing balls.
Avoid high contrasts of home time, where the dog gets a large amount of attention versus periods of away time when they are alone and potentially bored. When beginning work with the dog keep interactions with them calm, keeping your voice and body language at a mellow tone. Only reward calm behavior during goodbyes and greetings. When you leave and return try not to over acknowledge your pup. If she is excited, speak in a low and soft voice, remembering to keep body movement slow. This practice will help prevent rewarding the heightened state of arousal inadvertently.
Begin to create a positive association for the dog being alone. Provide brief periods of the dog being away from people for extremely short durations (less than 1 minute) pairing them with a positive experience, such as eating a treat or playing with a toy. Gradually progress to longer periods of time over a few days. Try to make these sessions positive by giving your dog something to do while you are away. This practice can also be done during meal time, set the bowl down and as your dog begins to eat, turn and walk out of the room. Re-enter the room before she has a chance to get upset that you are gone.
These same techniques can be applied to going into the crate and spending time there. Try to make the crate a positive place to be by feeding all meals inside or providing a special treat that she only receives when in the crate. Try throwing treats into the crate and allow the dog to go retrieve the treat building trust that each time she walks in does not mean a long period of alone time. Increase this time the same way as above, one second at a time, ensuring you do not go over the dog’s comfort level and cause stress.
If the dog does become stressed in the crate, wait for a moment of calm or quiet before approaching. Returning during a stress reaction can reward or reinforce the reaction. Only return and open the crate when your pup is calm. Keep a log of the amount of time the pup stays in the crate and when signs of stress emerged. Increase the time alone by small increments. If you happen to progress too far too fast, wait for a second or two of calm before returning to the dog.
The first 15-20 minutes of your absence accounts for 80% of the damage and anxiety. We want to provide our dogs with something to help transition them to being alone. An interactive feeding ball or toy typically works well here. A simple bone can also offer some stimulation to distract from your departure. If the dog is not eating when you are not around, try increasing the value of the treat or toy. This can be wet food, liver or other pet safe food. Try leaving the T.V. or radio on providing the similar noises your dog hears when you are at home.
Separation Anxiety has a wide range of severity and each dog responds differently. Simply rewarding the dog for being in a different room can help resolve the issue, though other times more intervention is required than listed in this handout.
For additional help with separation anxiety contact Operation Kindness at 972-418-7297
We also recommend McConnell, Patricia B. I’ll Be Home Soon!: How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety.