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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Damon

How To Help Separation Anxiety

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

A white dog stares through a doorway.
A white dog stares through a doorway.

Dogs love to be around us all the time. They never need a break. Sometimes though, this want to be with us can turn into an unhealthy state of mind known as separation anxiety. If your dog barks incessantly, rips the molding off the door, or destroys your couch cushions whenever you leave the house, you know this condition all too well. Separation anxiety can be cured but it does take a lot of patience and repetition. Read below to learn how to help separation anxiety. 1) Don't make a big deal out of coming and going from your home. For the last 15 minutes before you walk out the door, don't make eye contact or scratch him on the head. Just walk out the door. When you return, it's the same drill. Wait at least 15 minutes to engage your pup in any way. This is a really hard exercise to follow, especially at the end of the day. Your dog is so happy to see you and you feel like you're letting him down. Just keep his greater well-being in mind and soldier on. After 15 minutes, give him all the love and affection that you want. This is the single greatest exercise you can do to relieve his anxiety. 2) Pretend to leave and then don't. Lace up your shoes, put on your coat and grab your keys. Then, go make yourself a snack or sit down to read a book. Your dog relies mostly on non-verbal communication. He gets to see your routine everyday and he knows that when you reach for your wallet, you are headed out the door. His anxiety begins there. A simple practice is to keep your keys on a table near the door and then grab them periodically and jingle them without leaving. Don't make eye contact with your dog during this exercise. You are just systematically desensitizing him to those non-verbal cues. 3) Leave for short periods of time. On the weekend, go get the mail and come right back. Run to the store and come right back. We like to multi-task and do a lot of things at once. Instead, for the next couple weeks, do each small task outside of your home individually. That way, your pooch will realize that when you walk out the door, it won't be an eternity before you return. Slowly increase the amount of time that you are away. 4) Reward your dog when you leave. Give your pup a treat when you leave for work in the morning. My favorite is filling a Kong toy with smooth peanut butter, putting it in the freezer overnight, and then giving it to your dog as you walk out the door in the morning. It's like a peanut butter popsicle and it takes him a long time to eat. Your pup will begin to look forward to your leaving because he gets a treat. And, he'll be distracted during that very crucial time period right after you leave. Most separation anxiety cases get to work on destroying things within a few minutes of their owner's departure. 5) Don't punish your dog for his anxiety. You come home and your brand new couch has been destroyed. It's hard not to be upset. Yelling and punishing your dog only makes the anxiety worse though. Chances are that your pup did his redecorating hours ago and he won't have the faintest idea of why you are mad. All he sees is that you entered the home and got really angry. Now, he's even more anxious about your comings and goings. 6) Exercise! Take walks with your dog, play fetch. Adequate exercise goes a long way in helping anxiety. 7) Engage your dog's mind. I know I bring this up a lot. It's because this is one of the most overlooked ingredients to a happy dog. Teach your dog new cues. Invent them if you want. Hide treats around the house for your pup to find. Play hide and seek with him. Anything that requires your pup to use his brain goes a long way in making him a more relaxed pup. If you follow all of these steps and you don't see improvement then it's time to hire a positive reinforcement-based dog trainer. You should take your dog to the vet to rule out any ailments that may be causing anxiety. Your vet can also prescribe anti-anxiety medication if needed. Medication and behavior modification can go a long way in helping separation anxiety.

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