Achieving Balance and Harmony

DOG BEHAVIOR

Dog Separation Anxiety from Leaving Dog Alone

By Joe Wilkes

Dogs are very social animals, and they would like nothing more than to be by your side 24/7. But dog food doesn’t buy itself, and that may entail you having to leave them home alone while you go off to bring home the bacon, and the dog treats.

We might imagine our dogs gleefully doing the Tom Cruise "Risky Business" slide when we shut the door behind us in the morning, but the more likely scenario is the dog experiencing some level of separation anxiety. This separation anxiety might manifest itself as anything from nuisance barking or whining -- unpleasant for the neighbors -- to irksome surprises left for you when you return home, which is unpleasant for you. If your dog is one to chew his feelings, you'll likely find some prized possessions or furniture vandalized during your absence. What to do?

Staying home to watch "Judge Judy" with your lonely pooch every day probably isn’t a pragmatic long-term solution. So how do you help ease dog separation anxiety so you can go about your day without feeling like a monster and he can relax so you come home to man’s best friend instead of man’s craziest codependent roommate? Read on for practical tips to help ease dog separation anxiety.

Walk your dog before leaving home

If you want a calm dog, before you leave the house, make sure you schedule time for a brisk walk or a vigorous game of fetch in the backyard or nearby dog park. Having an anxious dog home alone is bad enough. Having a dog that is anxious and hyper is a recipe for disaster. Exercise helps calm your dog down in two ways. Physically, it tires your dog out, so he might be up for a nap while you’re away; and emotionally, exercise can level out your dog’s brain chemistry in the same way a good workout can leave humans exhilarated.

Hire a dog walker for dog exercise

The best-case scenario would be you coming home for lunch and spending a little quality time to break up your dog’s day. But if your schedule or commute doesn’t always allow that, it may take a village. If you have someone close by with pets, this is a great time to encourage some neighborly reciprocity, where you can arrange to let each other’s pets out when the other one isn’t home. You could also hire a dog walker to come by and provide a professional field trip. Before you do it, check out our tips for hiring a dog walker.

More dog toys, less noise

A bored dog left to his own devices may act out by chewing up your devices. Boredom can be as much of a cause for acting out as separation anxiety. For this reason, it’s vital to leave out your dog’s favorite toys and anything else you can think of that he can use to entertain himself in your absence. Dog toys make great diversions. Aside from keeping him away from your toys, you’ll provide distraction for your dog during the day, so he won’t be as anxious about you being gone. One word of caution: don’t rely on toys with treats hidden in them. Once the dog eats the treat -- which could be in minutes -- he’ll grow bored and move on to the furniture.

Are two dogs company or double trouble for separation anxiety?

A common solution that many pet owners advocate is to adopt a second dog to keep the first dog company. This can be a great idea or a bigger dog problem. There are many variables to consider, including the size, gender, energy, and temperament of your dog and of the potential new dog. Talk to your veterinarian about whether a second dog is a good idea for your current dog and what you should look for in a new companion. Adopting a second dog can bring a lot of happiness into everyone’s life, but it isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. You don’t want to be faced with a situation where you have fighting dogs, or be forced to re-home a second dog who didn’t work out.

If you currently don’t have a dog, and you’re considering adopting one, think about whether your lifestyle is conducive to sharing your life with a dog. If you think your potential dog might be spending time home alone, that should factor in your decision when choosing your new friend. Look at dogs who are more low-energy and don’t need as much exercise or outdoor time. Better yet, consider adopting an older dog. Many older dogs have difficulty being re-homed, but can be a perfect fit for you. They typically are much calmer than puppies, and many are already housebroken. So don’t pass up a dog just because he’s been around the block a couple of times—it may mean he’s ready to take it easy. Here are seven good reasons why you should adopt a senior dog.

How has your dog surprised you after being left home alone? Tell us all about it in the comments.

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