After last night’s World Cup match, English football fans are hoping ‘it’s coming home’. But have you stopped to think that your dog may be hoping the same thing – that you’re ‘coming home’ soon.
Dogs are very social animals, they would naturally live in packs and most would still prefer company to being home alone. But being home all the time simply isn’t feasible for most people. So it is important that we help our dogs get comfortable with being apart from us to avoid them developing separation anxiety.
Helping a puppy or new dog get used to being home alone
It is important to teach your dog that being on their own isn’t scary and this is best started done gradually. Some ideas to help are:
- Choose an area: Choose an area where your dog will be left. Make sure that your dog has positive experiences in this area and doesn’t just get put in there when you go out to prevent them associating the area with being abandoned. Give your dog a bed and water in the area. You could use a utility room with a stair gate or a suitably sized crate (both allow your dog to still see and hear you). Ideas for giving your dog a positive association with the area include feeding them their daily food in there or when providing a suitable chew item make sure you give it to them in the area. They will soon start to like it. Leaving an item of clothing can also help your dog feel more secure.
- Radio: Many dogs will enjoy a low level radio as background noise; stations with talking on are better than those with continual music.
- Build up: Before you leave your dog for periods of time on their own, make sure you put your dog in the chosen area several times a day with a suitable chew item and gradually build up to leaving the room for longer periods of time. Try to go back to your dog whilst it is still chewing or is settled before it stops and gets upset.
- Help: If your dog already has separation anxiety, such as a rescue dog that you have recently acquired, there are some products you can get to help calm your dog down, such as adaptil. Always speak to your vet if your dog is very distressed and you feel it needs some extra help to adapt to being alone.
Never punish your dog!
Many people believe that if you punish a dog for their bad actions, they will understand what they’ve done wrong and won’t do it again in the future. This simply is not the case. Punishing a dog for being anxious is only likely to lead to higher levels of anxiety as they start to also fear a punishment when you return.
The Blue Cross have further information on how to help a dog with separation anxiety. You may also want to seek professional help. Try looking for a behaviourist trainer on the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors website or the Animal Behaviour and Training Council website.