It was a fun and active summer for your family—and that includes your dog. The kids were home from school and spent their days running around with their friends. The house was lively, exciting, and filled with people. To social creatures like your dog, this is the life!
But wait, something’s happened. The calendar says September and suddenly the kids are away in school all day, the house is too quiet, and your dog is feeling lonely. At this time of year, many dogs have a hard time adjusting to the change in pace and rhythm. Separation anxiety may set in and, as a result, your dog may whimper, bark, or howl for long periods when you leave the house. Other symptoms of separation anxiety include having “accidents” on the carpet, destructive chewing, and furniture scratching.
When you or your kids finally come home, you may also find that your dog has become very clingy, following you around the house and never letting you out of his sight. In some extreme cases, dogs will even resort to self-mutilation, chewing excessively on their tail or paws.
Breaking the pattern
Separation anxiety is not the same as simple bad behavior and cannot be treated as such. Getting angry at your dog isn't the solution—in fact, it will create even more anxiety because your dog will associate your absence and return with punishment.
Here are a few ways you can help your dog deal with separation anxiety:
Review the "sit" and "stay" commands. First, practice these commands with your dog as you move from one place to another. Reward your dog with a treat if he obeys. If he doesn't obey, try it again for a shorter time and distance. As your dog obeys, slowly increase the time and distance.
Alter your habits. Do you have a set routine each day before you leave the house? Perhaps you jingle your keys, put your bag or briefcase near the door or kiss your spouse and kids. Your dog picks up on these cues, and associates them with your leaving. Try to mix up your normal routine by doing your usual activities in a different order.
Practice leaving. Using the "sit" and "stay" commands you practiced with your dog earlier, do the same exercise again, only this time go out the door and come back. Stay away for a couple of minutes at first, then increase the amount of time you’re away. You may have to take it slow the first time. If your dog starts to get upset, go back to shorter periods of time. Repeat this exercise until your dog starts to trust that you will always return.
Go for a walk. Taking your dog for a long walk before you leave will give your dog a reason to look forward to your departure. It will also help make him too tired to howl or destroy your home after you leave.
Use his crate. If your dog has been crate trained, this is the perfect time to put him in his "private den" with some comfortable bedding for the few hours that he’ll be left alone at home. Since he feels safe and secure in his crate, there’s a good chance that he’ll be relaxed—instead of anxious—when you leave the house.
With some time and a lot of patience, your dog will no longer be singing the "Home Alone Blues"—and your family can be confident knowing that you can leave the house without making your dog anxious.