The big eyes, the hysterical barking, the whining, the destruction of property–separation anxiety in our canine companions can be as stressful and emotionally draining for us as it is for them. Unfortunately, what works for humankind isn’t exactly what works for our dogs, therefore in our attempts to repeatedly comfort and assure our dogs, we often unintentionally reinforce that time away from each other is the worst possible thing in the world, and that anxiety can build into a never-ending cycle.
Luckily, by being cognizant of our behaviors and creating a comforting routine, we can reduce our dog’s fears and live a happier, healthier life. Here are five steps to get you there.
#1 — Routine
The anxious dog needs a routine he can trust and rely on. Provide this to the best of your ability by scheduling his feedings, walks, and playtimes as regularly as you can. Most importantly, develop a routine when you exit and enter the home. This way, your dog can begin to anticipate when you leave the home–and know you will return.
#2 — Hold The Emotions
Sometimes it’s difficult not to lavish our dogs with goodbye kisses and hello hugs, but this display of affection is a major trigger of anxiety for them. The big to-do of a dramatic exit and entrance signals to our dogs that when we leave, it is a very big deal, and when we return, it is a very big deal, and all this drama makes every separation an anxiety-ridden nightmare. Practice your routine before you exit–whether it’s a quick walk, a chew toy, going into the crate, or turning on the radio–and then say a simple, calm goodbye. When you reenter the home, enter with that same calm energy. Do not respond to his excited greeting–you want to reinforce your reunion is just another expected, normal part of daily life. After he calms, then give him a cuddle. Don’t feel guilty–you won’t hurt his feelings. These calm, strong responses are telling him you are in charge and everything is ok.
#3 — Exercise
A dog of any age needs exercise to calm the mind, distress the nerves, and tire the body. Whether it’s swimming, dog parks, agility classes, or jogging, make exercise a priority and an enjoyable part of your daily routine. If you are dealing with a young, exuberant dog or you are simply pressed for time, consider hiring a dog walker or enrolling in dog daycare.
#4 — Try Different Things
If you’ve developed your routine and established a calm environment and your dog is still experiencing heighten separation anxiety, there are a number of options to explore: specially formulated music, such as Through a Dog’s Ear (throughadogsear.com), dog appeasing pheromones, such as Adaptil collars, or homeopathic calming aids, such as Rescue Remedy. Wireless camera, such as the Samsung SmartCam, are relatively inexpensive and allow you to monitor your dog in your home from your mobile phone–you can even speak to them through the app to reassure them if you observe anxious behaviors arising.
#5 — Contact Your Vet If things aren’t Improving
Medication is often a last case resort, but there is no shame in investigating this option for a highly anxious dog. It can make a huge difference in your dog’s behavior.
As American doctors are seeing dramatic increases in anxiety cases among their own patients, so too are veterinarians and dog trainers. The good news is as our lives increasingly intertwine with our canine companions, we possess the gateway to their well-being and happiness. Through these learned methods, we can greatly improve the lives of our best friends–so that they can be there for us too.