My Experience With a Dog Who Has Separation Anxiety
When my boyfriend and I first got Lincoln, a Pomeranian/Husky mix, he was about 10 months old and had a few obedience cues down as well as house trained. However, when we left him alone he would go into a panic. He would high pitch bark, scratch the floors, and doors. Lincoln would find anything he could and chew it up, or scratch it up. I had no experience with separation anxiety in dogs. I felt awful leaving him and began researching what to do.
Is It Really Separation Anxiety?
Many pet owners confuse what separation anxiety in dogs actually is. Separation anxiety is when an animal becomes attached to one person or group, and when are left without them the animal has a panic attack. Isolation anxiety is when an animal just does not like being left alone and will go into a panic attack when they are. An animal who is left out when home alone and chews your shoe of boredom is not displaying separation anxiety. He or she may just have bad house manners that need to be addressed. A pet with separation anxiety or isolation anxiety, these animals can’t bear to be left alone or without their person. I advise you to talk with a trusted vet or behavioral trainer if you are unsure.
Get Your Pup a Pal
We have a German Shepherd, Max, who gets along great with Lincoln. Having another pet around can be helpful to many pets with separation anxiety. Lincoln had Max to keep him company, that did not help. If you’re gone for long hours of the day with your pet stuck in the house, think about daycare for him. Ask a neighbor who is home, a family member or friend to stop over and let him out. Even leaving the TV, or an audiobook on is helpful. Your pet will feel less alone with the noise.
You Dog’s Diet
Just like in human’s, diets play a large role in the mental health of your pet. Feeding your beloved pet, a high-quality diet is imperative for him to live a long, happy, healthy life. I chose a mixture of raw, can, and kibble for Max and Lincoln.
Lincoln eats Zignature’s hypo-allergenic diet of canned and kibble that varies in type of protein. I have about three different proteins on hand at a time. I switch out a protein for every meal and they eat three times a day. Lincoln is not the fondest of raw otherwise I would prefer to feed him raw. Max eats varied protein from Fromm in canned in kibble. He also eats varied protein from Primal which is in raw patty form.
It is important to change diets gradually. Switching foods too quickly can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or excess gas. Unlike humans, dogs and cats often eat the same diet for months or years, and their digestive systems are not as used to change.
If at any time during the transition, your pet experiences gastrointestinal upset, keep the ratio of old to new food the same for several days. This will allow your pet to adjust to the new ratio before you incorporate more new food. This is just a guideline, and you can increase transition time if your pet is particularly sensitive.
A very important note about diet is to do research and speak with your vet about the best diet for your pet. I have found the website Dog Food Advisor to help understand the quality of food. Switching food on your pet takes steps and time. Do not completely switch their food on them because that can cause internal problems. If you have more questions you can always contact your trusted vet.
Exercise and Interaction
Exercising your pet before you leave will help calm him or her because it will release some of his energy. You could take your pet for a walk or play fetch. Just anything that will get him up and moving. Now that your pet is a little tired you can use distraction toys while you are gone. Distraction toys are filled with treats that your pet must work to get out. The name says it all, they are meant to keep your pet busy. There are several different distraction toys on the market. I use Planet Dogs “Maze”, “Snoop”, and “Link”. If I give Lincoln a distraction toy then Max gets one as well. One of the boys’ all-time favorite is the “Orbee-Tuff Industrial Double Tuff” toy filled with peanut butter.
As hard as it is, making your exit as least dramatic as possible is important. If you act like it’s the end of the world when you leave, your pet picks up on that and it can cause more stress. Change up your exit routine as well. If you normally put your shoes on, grab your keys, and then leave, do those randomly throughout the day. This teaches your pet not to get anxious about you grabbing your keys because you did not leave him alone.
For the safety of Lincoln and our house, we still keep him in his pen when we leave the house. I chose this pen and it works great. If your pet destroys your house while you’re gone you should strongly think about crating or confining him to a safe area. Pets are like children and get into dangerous things. I know we all would like to have our pets be free and run around the house, but their safety comes first. Some animals find a crate or small area comforting. If you decide to crate there are a few steps you should take.
- Purchase the proper size. Your pet should be able to stand on all fours and be able to circle his body in the crate.
- Please do not introduce a crate to your dog by shoving him in there. Slow and steady wins the race with this.
- Reward him with treats or pets while you are introducing the crate. Let him feel his way around and enter the crate himself. If he has zero interest with the crate trying throwing some treats in, his favorite toy, or a toy filled with peanut butter.
- Once he is familiar with the crate, try leaving him in there for a few minutes while you sit in the same room as him. Then, reward him immediately, you do not want to leave him in there so long that he begins to cry. It is difficult because if you reward him when he begins to whine, you are now rewarding him on a behavior you don’t want.
- Work the time up until you can leave the room, and even the house.
- Feed him in his crate. He will begin to associate his crate with food and what dog doesn’t love to eat.
Whether you are crating your pet or not you should still practice leaving. This sounds funny, but it helps your pet to understand that you are going to come back. You should take baby steps in your approach to leaving him.
- Leave him alone for a few minutes, and then come back with a reward.
- Do this a few times every day, increasing the time by a few minutes.
- Don’t overwork your pet by doing this ten times in a row. Three times is plenty in one sitting.
I use my obedience cue “sit”, and “stay” to assist me. I tell Lincoln to “stay” once he gets in his pen, and then I leave. When I come back I reward him for staying. This has helped tremendously. There are times when he reverts back to sounding like a tortured animal but overall his anxiety has decreased.
These tips how had a huge impact on Lincoln’s anxiety. I hope they help you! If these tips don’t work it’s best to talk with your vet and find a behavioral therapist for your pet.