How to deal with parent and pet separation anxiety

Separation anxiety – including pet separation anxiety – is a term with which many of us are familiar, especially when we’ve been separated from our loved ones. Anxiety levels vary for each individual but can prove traumatic. In this article, we will explore what separation anxiety is, and how to remedy it.

What is Separation Anxiety?

True separation anxiety is a condition that causes dogs to feel severe distress at the prospect of being left home alone. They start to panic and exhibit unusual behaviour. It is so overwhelming that when you leave, dogs become destructive, whine and bark incessantly, and in some cases, self-harm. When you get home, the greetings are erratic and frantic, and it just seems that any and all house training has gone out the window. Humans feel separation anxiety as well, and it is heightened when their pets show signs of distress. The condition is highly stressful for both pet and parent, and regular obedience training does very little to ease it.

  Separation anxiety is oftentimes mistaken for boredom. While both are accompanied by problematic behaviour like house destroying and excessive barking, boredom can be fixed with extra mental stimulation and exercise. When these do not work, then you should look at further treatments. The good news is that separation anxiety can be treated.

Signs and Symptoms

There is no real explanation for why some dogs will get separation anxiety and why others don’t. Perhaps it could be created by a psychologically distressing or traumatic change (a big move, or a new addition to the family, or the loss of a sibling pet or human family member), or some sort of medical condition.

How to Deal With Pet Separation Anxiety.

1.      Rescue remedy

Speak to your vet about the kinds of anxiety medication that you can give to your dog to calm their nerves. Remember that drugs are only a temporary solution, and will work well as a support mechanism that will help in rehabilitating your dog. But they are only a temporary solution. You have to find the root cause of the anxiety.

2.      Rule out all other possibilities

It’s important to figure out what is causing your pet’s anxiety in the first place. More often than not, it starts when your pet is still a puppy. Sometimes, a pup from a litter will begin to cry when alone. We reward that behaviour by going to pick the pup up. We need to, instead reward good behaviour. Teach your pup to be patient and calm, and reward that instead. Once you have managed that, your pup will grow up with less anxiety when you’re not around. If you have an older dog, find their separation threshold. Set up a camera in the home so you can monitor your dog’s behaviour when you’re not around. Start a stopwatch from the moment you leave and time how long it takes for your dog to start panicking. However long it takes will tell you what their threshold is. Look out for signs of pacing, destructive behaviour and any other signs that your dog is afraid or distressed.

3.      Community

It may sound super cliché, but it really does take a village to raise a child. Or in this case, a fur baby. Having a friend or a family member take care of your dog when you leave will help them feel less lonely. And if you can afford to, drop your pooch off at a doggy daycare so that he or she can have the company of other pooches during the day.

4.      Keep things interesting

We all have our daily routines: wake up, shower, breakfast, go to work, etc. Once your dog has gotten used to your routine, they may start showing signs of anxiety from step one, and by the time you walk out of the door, your dog is in a full-blown panic. Pay attention to the things you do before you leave the house, and start doing those things randomly during the day. For example, grab your keys and sit down to have some tea, or put on your coat and feed your pet. Within a few weeks, your dog will no longer see those things as signs of you leaving, and some of the anxiety will slowly begin to ease.

5.      Leaving is not that big a deal

We know how much goodbyes suck for both parent and pet. That’s why we tend to have a long goodbye with our pets before leave and immediate cuddles ensue when we return. Unfortunately, this adds to your dog’s anxiety. To prevent this, try ignoring your dog in the few minutes before you leave, and for a few minutes after you come home. We know that this may be hard, but this way we are teaching our dogs that leaving isn’t that big a deal.

6.      Desensitization

This is important in making sure that in the long run, your pet doesn’t freak when you leave. This process is very time consuming, but once you get it right, your pet will be comfortable enough to be left home alone. Take 30-minute training sessions every day to get them comfortable with the idea of your departure. Start off by stepping out for a second, and then coming back in, and see how long it takes for your dog to start panicking. Then let your dog calm down, once they are calm, step out again, but this time a bit longer than before. In between each step, take a moment between steps to do something natural in the home (wash the dishes or sit down or watch some TV). If you start to shower your pet in love in between steps, it will slow down the process. What also helps is incorporating parts of your routine in the training so that they are desensitized to those cues as well.

It may all seem rather daunting at first, and it is all hard work. But the end result is important in making sure that your dog is happy at home, and doesn’t fear to be alone anymore. Keep your wits about you, and your dog will too.

Sources:

Separation Anxiety: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety
Dealing with Dog Separation Anxiety:  https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-behavior/anxiety/dealing-with-separation-anxiety
How to Solve Separation Anxiety in Dogs: https://www.thesprucepets.com/treating-separation-anxiety-in-dogs-1117889
Here’s the Only Real Way to Train a Dog with Separation Anxiety: https://www.rover.com/blog/heres-real-way-train-dog-separation-anxiety/