1. Make sure it’s really separation anxiety!
Before you can help, you need to make sure she actually is suffering from separation anxiety! If you come home from work to find that your dog has eaten the wall, your first thought is “oh, she missed me so much she tried to chew her way out!”
Okay, so your first thought is probably something a little less family-friendly, but once the shock wears off, you’ll get there! The thing is, your dog might have chewed your wall up because you forgot to leave her with something a little less destructive to chew!
Sometimes dogs do things just because they can. They’re not upset that your gone, they just haven’t been properly trained to realize that the wall is not edible!
Another clue that it’s not separation anxiety: your dog does it when you’re home. I had two dogs that dragged all my clothes out the doggy door when I was away. They never did that when I was home, so I figured out that they were upset I left. On the flip side, my third dog loved to steal my son’s sippy cups. He did this when I was home and away. He wasn’t upset I was gone, he just liked to steal the cups!
2. Create a safety zone for your dog while you’re gone
This is an important step whether your dog has separation anxiety or not. Some dogs are fine roaming the house while you’re out. The two dogs that stole my clothes learned to cope and could be left “loose” while we were gone. They had a dog door that opened into a huge fenced-in yard, so we didn’t really worry.
My current dogs, on the other hand, cannot be left alone. Well, one can, but the other absolutely cannot. She has to be contained either in a crate (which she hates) or a safe area of the house. If you have a crate-trained pup, then use that. If not, you’ll need to choose an area that you can fence off with gates for your pup. I don’t recommend your bedroom unless you really love the look of chewed shoes!
3. Counter-condition your dog
There are a lot of training guides that tell you how to ease the suffering of dog separation anxiety out there, but my favorites are the ones that use counter-conditioning. Basically, it’s a type of training that turns a negative into a positive. This technique works best for dogs with mild cases.
The goal here is to help your dog learn that it’s okay to be alone. In fact, it’s fun and rewarding! Do this by giving your dog a special treat or toy while you’re gone. I recommend keeping one really spectacular toy aside that you only give your dog on your way out the door. For super intelligent dogs, like my Freya, you’ll want to choose a fabulous interactive toy.
4. Use Desensitization for Severe Separation Anxiety
For dogs with severe cases of separation anxiety, you’ll need to work on desensitizing him to your absences. This requires quite a bit of patience and time. Long story short, you’ll be leaving for short periods of time, then returning, then leaving, returning, etc until you gradually increase the length of time that your gone.
A few tips to make this work include:
- Desensitizing your dog to departure clues. My Pharaoh Hound gets upset when she sees me putting on makeup because she knows it means I’m leaving. I’ve started putting it on even when I’m not going out, so she stops associating my blush brush with separation!
- Coming and going out of different doors, so your dog doesn’t always associate the front door with your departure.
- Teaching your dog “out of sight stay.” Basically, you teach her to stay even when you leave the room. Go out of the room for a second or two, then come back in and reward her. Increase the time and your distance. Building your “away time” slowly and steadily. Don’t think you can train your dog to relax when you leave the room one minute, then leave for 8 hours the next. You’ll need to be patient! Slow and steady wins the race!
5. Consider “drastic measures” as a last resort
To me, drastic measures include paying for a pet sitter or giving medications. Why is a pet sitter a drastic measure? Well, if you need to leave your house for an emergency and can’t get one right away, your dog won’t have the tools to cope with your absence. Medications are also a last resort tool because I am just not comfortable medicating my pooch every time I go out.
Still, if you’ve tried everything else (including ruling out medical issues and talking to a professional trainer), they can help ease the suffering of dog separation anxiety.
Above all else, you’ll need to be patient with your dog. It’s important to remember that the separation anxiety stems from a place of love. Your pup adores you so much that being away from you is stressful. It’s also okay to try different humane techniques until you find the one that works best for your pooch. Dog training isn’t a “one size fits all” deal. My only rule: reward, don’t punish. Reward your dog when she gets it right, don’t scold and punish when she gets it wrong!