"Separation anxiety" is a phrase that's often used when a dog becomes anxious when left alone. Some dogs with separation anxiety will bark all day when left alone. Others are so nervous they have accidents, and some dogs will destroy property in an attempt to get out of the house.
On the other hand, just because your dog is acting this way does not necessarily mean he has true "separation anxiety." It could just be that he's bored or that he's not fully potty trained like you thought. Or maybe he's just barking because he hasn't been taught any other options.
If you're not sure if your dog is dealing with separation anxiety, it's always best to consult with a veterinarian or trainer. Then you can come up with the best behavior modification plan for your unique dog, whether separation anxiety is the issue or not.
In the meantime, the following are some ideas to help any dog feel more comfortable when left home alone. If your dog is already starting to appear anxious when you leave, these tips could help your dog feel calmer.
How to help a dog feel calm when home alone
1. Stick to a routine.
Dogs love a routine. If their schedules are somewhat predictable, they have an easier time relaxing. Do your best to follow the same routine each day when you leave the house. For example, maybe you let your dog out first thing in the morning, then feed her, then take her for a short walk before putting her in her kennel while you get ready for work.
2. Do not feel sorry for your dog.
Dogs pick up on our emotions, which can be a good thing at times. However, if you're feeling anxious about leaving your dog home alone, guess who else will feel anxious? Instead, try to think positive thoughts about how lucky your dog is to stay home in a relaxing, climate-controlled environment with toys and a bed. You are the one who has to work all day at a job. Your dog should feel sorry for you!
3. Start by leaving for short periods.
If you recently adopted a new dog or puppy, it can really help if you start by leaving her alone for just 10 minutes at a time. Start doing this right away from day one. Ideally, you would be able to take a day or two off from work and slowly get your dog used to being alone in a new place.
4. Provide lots of exercise and structure.
A tired dog will have an easier time staying calm and relaxed. It's not fair to expect your dog to be calm and quiet while you're gone if you don't take him for at least a walk every day. Some dogs will need even more exercise than that such as some off-leash time to run around. For more ideas, see our post on ways to exercise a dog.
5. Don't make a big deal out of coming and going.
If you make a big production out of leaving the house, it's only going to make your dog excited and nervous. It's best to literally ignore him for a good 20 minutes before leaving. When you do leave, don't even look at your dog or say goodbye. Just go.
If you say something like "Goodbye, Buddy! Mommy loves you! Be a good boy! I'll be back soon!" it will only make Buddy more excited. You don't want to get him excited, especially if he's already started to settle in. Instead, just leave quietly.
6. Use a kennel.
Some dog owners are uncomfortable with the idea of putting their dogs in a "cage." However, kennels are safe tools that can often help dogs feel relaxed and calm.
Because I used a kennel with my dog Ace for the first six months, he was able to learn how to relax when left alone. It didn't take long for him to slowly be allowed more and more freedom, but the kennel was an important tool to prevent bad habits from forming.
While in his kennel, my dog did not have the option of chewing my coffee table or peeing on the rug. Instead, he chewed on the special toys I gave him and then settled in for a nap. It also helped that I took him for a walk every single morning before leaving.
For more, see our post on kennel training tips.
Other tips to try:
- Leave music or TV on for your dog.
- Leave a fan or air conditioning on for more "white noise."
- Give the dog a special toy or treat when you leave.
- Ignore your dog when he whines.
How about the rest of you? How did you train your dog to feel comfortable being left alone?