You arrive home from work and your dog is running frantically in circles around your living room which, let’s just say is not as it was when you left. The floor lamp is lying horizontally on the floor and several cushions have had the stuffing violently pulled out of them. (You can tell it was violent by the sheer carnage!) You notice he has been scratching at the window frame, and he’s had an “accident” over in the corner. So you’re standing there with your hands on your hips trying to take it all in, and at the same time wondering what on earth you’re going to do with this hellhound you call Barney.
Barney is not alone in his hijinks. Many dogs suffer from separation anxiety, and although it is not fully known why some do and some don’t, there is usually an explanation for it, such as:
- He has been used to having you around all day, and you left him alone for the first time.
- Something traumatic has happened in his life such as a period of time spent at a boarding kennel.
- There has been a restructuring or a loss in the family of some kind, whether a child leaving for college, or a death, or perhaps a change in routine.
Just as with a young child, you can’t explain exactly what is going on or when you will be back if you’re leaving, so it is with Barney, who thinks you may never return to him again.
So what can you do to prevent future living room catastrophes? Here are some suggestions:
- Before you leave for the day, take your dog for a walk. The exercise and fresh air will do you both good, and hopefully tire him out a little! Also, it’s another opportunity to bond with your dog and make him feel secure.
- Don’t make a big deal of leaving or coming home. Don’t touch him, make eye contact, or talk to him right before you leave. That way, he knows it’s just business as usual. And when you arrive home, don’t pet him right away. Wait a few minutes and then calmly give him your attention.
- Leave an article of your clothing with him that you’ve worn recently, such as a t-shirt you have slept in.
- Practice your leaving technique by habitually using a particular word and/or action that signals him you are about to leave. Then start out by leaving for five minutes at a time gradually increasing the time away, using the same cues every time. This reinforces the understanding that your absence is just temporary and you will be back.
- Be calm and assertive. Don’t allow any feelings of guilt or worry on your part to creep in before you leave. Exude the confidence of a pack leader which is reassuring and stabilizing for your dog.
If these techniques don’t help, you may have to discuss the problem with your dog’s veterinarian. In extreme cases, your dog might need an anti-anxiety medication which if it’s the correct one, should calm him down without overly sedating him.
With time, patience and a steady routine, Barney should become a calm, secure, happy pouch once again.