Dog separation anxiety can be one of the most burdensome and emotionally draining disorders our furry friends can possibly suffer from. It occurs most often in dogs that we like to refer to as "velcro dogs" or dogs that don't like to leave their humans side.
Oftentimes once dogs get the first hint that you might be leaving without them they instantly experience an onslaught of stressful and traumatic feelings. What's worse is how difficult it can be to break this terrible habit and your dogs grave fear of you never returning home when you do leave.
Although there is hope! Below are some of the most powerful and proven methods to helping your dog overcome this terrible disorder. Please be forewarned that this is by no means an overnight miracle fix. Working with your dog to overcome their separation anxiety takes diligence, time and a lot of patience.
A dog suffering from separation anxiety will always come to learn your habits. They know your routine before you take a shower, they know your routine before you take the trash out, and they will definitely 100% know your routine before you get ready to leave home for any period of time.
Simply picking up your car keys can easily cause anxiety for your dog. Eliminating this source of stress is essential and the best way to do it is by "desensitizing" your dog to your particular actions that signal you are about to leave.
What desensitizing means is to detach that action of getting your keys from the idea in your dogs mind that you are leaving.
The way to do this is to practice picking up your keys and going through your entire routine just as you would do as if you were actually leaving home but don't actually leave. Instead, hop on the couch and watch TV, do some cleaning, play with your dog, anything but actually leave.
Do this sporadically throughout the day in your free time. All dogs are trained different so the timing will vary but over time your dog will disassociate your leaving routine from you actually leaving.
Dog separation anxiety occurs while we are separated from them - obviously. That part can make it difficult to understand what methods work and what methods don't work while you are away from your dog because you are unable to observe their reactions in that environment.
The first thing I would recommend is establishing a way to observe your dog while you are away from home. This will enable you to keep an eye on their behavior while you try different methods to see how they react to those methods.
One of the easiest ways to observing your pet while you are away from home is with a pet camera. Most pet cameras even have interactive features that may help your dog deal with its separation anxiety.
This concept is similar to the idea of desensitizing your dog to your leaving process except the idea is to desensitize the time that you are actually gone. It works by practicing leaving home sporadically for short periods of time. You can start by simply walking outside the door and standing there for 10 seconds. Gradually build that up to a couple minutes.
After a while, take a drive around the neighborhood for 5-10 minutes and then head to the grocery store for 25-30 minutes. The idea here is to get your dog used to you being gone but starting with baby steps. After a while, your dog should get acclimated to the idea of being away from you and start to understand that you will always come back.
Dog anxiety jackets can help dogs cope with several sources of anxiety. Perhaps the most popular, the ThunderShirt, was originally designed for dogs suffering anxiety during thunderstorms. The way it works is by constantly applying a snug feeling of constant, gentle pressure to calm anxiety, fear and overexcitement.
You may have realized in the past that during an anxiety event your dog was going through, if you picked him/her up and held them close it may have helped calm them and reduce their anxiety - this jacket works much in the same way. Many dog owners have found success using the anxiety jacket to treat separation anxiety and it is an easy and inexpensive method to start with.
Crate training is often cautiously recommended to dog owners as a method of treating separation anxiety. The reason for the caution is that it can actually make the anxiety worse in some cases because the feeling of being confined can really scare dogs.
However, with diligent training and a lot of patience, a lot of owners have reported having success with using the crate training method to successfully treat separation anxiety. The most important part is getting your dog comfortable with the idea of the crate.
Do not worry if you are working with on older dog because using the same steps laid out in that guide can be applied to all age groups of dogs.
Once your dog has been successfully crate trained you can start leaving home in short time intervals as I mentioned above in the desensitizing step. Gradually increase the time you are gone until you feel your dog is totally comfortable being in the crate while you are away.
In many separation anxiety cases, one of the biggest causes is that the dog is home alone is a massive (at least to them) empty house and they do not know where to go or what to do. Crate training can provide your dog with a safe place of its own while you are away and does not give them that feeling of a huge empty house.
It is recommended to implement this method alongside any of the methods mentioned above. As with most of the methods laid out above, you may or may not find this step helps your dog because it is not a 100% success rate in all dogs but it could help yours.
This is free to try and could start helping your dog cope with separation anxiety immediately so it is worth a try. There are several different tracks available on YouTube, a simple search for "dog separation anxiety music" will do. Here are a couple of links to get you started:
Have you had success dealing with your dog's separation anxiety? Share your experience in the comments.