It’s Monday morning and after a lovely weekend together you are running late for work so you quickly give the dog a 10 minute jog around the block, feed him and tell him “mommy will be back soon” while giving him lots of hugs and kisses as he jumps up, spins in circles, and tries to squeeze through the door with you. Sound like your morning?
By far the most common issue among my clients is separation anxiety. This problem behaviour can develop at any time with dogs and can be tricky to fix. Issues like aggression can often be remedied faster than separation anxiety, which can be deep routed.
So why do some dogs develop this anxiety? There are several reasons but a main one is that it is unnatural for pack members to just up and leave on their own. Dogs in the wild migrate together and don’t just venture off independently. We typically worsen this already foreign behaviour by making a big production of leaving in the first place. We caudal and baby talk to our pets right before leaving not recognizing that the dog is already in a stressed state of mind. We rarely tire out our pups before leaving and almost never make sure they are relaxed once we go. Instead we blow kisses and pour affection onto our dogs when they are already anxious therefore rewarding the behaviour. What’s worse is we do the exact same when we return home. A dog who has not been properly exercised and is left in a stressed state will of course try to release some frustration by chewing baseboards or singing a song that never ends for your neighbours.
Here are my 7 helpful tips on what you can do to help curb your dog’s separation anxiety.
Make sure your dog sees you as the pack leader. A dog who thinks he is in charge will be stressed when pack members are out of sight because he feels out of control. He worries that he cannot protect and provide guidance which leads to him act out. You and everyone in your family need to be the pack leader. Kids actually make great pack leaders as they don’t over think things and act instinctually.
Exercise your dog well before leaving. Guess what? A 10-15 minute walk around the block doesn’t work. Take your dog somewhere new and take 45 mintes to an hour to truly work them out. Imagine being locked up all day with nothing to do when you are programmed to work. You’d get pretty bored and anxious too. Give your dog something fulfilling and fun to then leave them tired afterwards. Save the 15 minute walk for when you return.
Feed your dog before you step out. After dogs eat they need to rest in order to digest. This is a natural way to help them into a calm state before you go as they will tire and sleep while you are gone (assuming you already fulfilled their exercise requirements)
Make sure your dog is calm when you go. Putting your dog on his bed or better yet in a crate in a calm state will make leaving a breeze. They’ll be asleep and forgot you even left in no time. Do not rush this step, make sure the dog is fully calm and not just lying down.
Desensitize your dog to things like grabbing your keys or putting on your shoes. Carry your keys around with you and jingle them and put shoes and a coat on 20 minutes before actually heading out.
Do not make leaving and arriving home a dramatic occurrence. Remember Cesar Millan’s rules: No touch, no talk, no eye contact. Just act as if all is good and calmly leave. When you come home wait until your dog is calm and settled to show affection. If you build up emotions about coming and going your dog will always be stressed about it.
Resist the urge to get another dog to keep yours company while you are gone. Chances are the new dog will develop the same separation anxiety and now you’ll just have 2 dogs destroying your house. Any time you have problem behaviours with a dog it is never ideal to add a new pack member until those issues have been resolved. Putting that stress on another dog is not fair and it is unlikely either dog will achieve balance.
It’s that wonderful time of year again where the kids go back to school and everyone’s routine has changed. Your schedule is packed full with little to no time to even take a breath. You’ve got to pack lunches, get the kids to school, drop the kids off at soccer practice, pick them up, feed the family, and then ahhhhh sit down on the couch for a few minutes before going back to bed and doing it all over again tomorrow. Sound familiar?
Fall is a busy time of year! It’s among the craziest for us at The Dog Haus as we constantly get last minute calls from clients begging us to take their dog because they have absolutely no time to exercise their mutt and he’s chewed the couch…again!!!
Being so busy often means dog walks come last on the “to-do list.” Unfortunately for our pets this is not only frustrating but stressful. Suddenly everyone in the pack leaves for hours on end all day long and the dog is all alone with nothing to do. With so much stored up energy, they wander around, bored as hell, only to find a shoe that smells just like you so they carry it around and feeling frustrated release their excess energy by chewing it to bits. This is not a blatant screw you, but pretty much the only way they have to burn energy and at the same time sooth themselves. When this happens, take a good hard look at how little time you may be spending with your pooch. I still remember when I first got Carmen she would go through the garbage any time she felt she didn’t get a long enough walk that day. It was sad and hard for me to realize that I really shouldn’t punish her whenever she did this, instead I took her feedback and would do better the next day. Keep in mind that dogs have very few means to communicate with us. Any time you notice some bizarre or naughty behaviour, pay attention to what may have changed in your dog’s life. Did someone move out and go to college? Did your work hours change meaning you don’t walk the dog as long? Are you too tired to take the dog out at night when you get home? Your dog is speaking up to say his/her needs have not been met lately.
Some dogs experience depression and anxiety when the kids go back to school and their routine changes. It’s important that you not neglect your dog during this busy time so here are my suggestions to help you through this change.
Tire your dog BEFORE dropping kids off at school and going to work. Better yet, walk your dog to school with the kids instead of driving – my personal favourite because I love getting two birds stoned at once 😉 plus it’s good for the environment!
Use time with the dog as a stress reliever for you both – we all need to take time to relax which we rarely do. Come on a Meditation Walk with me to learn more on how to do this (next one is September 9th, 2018 10am at Hillside Park).
Have fun together and play some games! Being with your dog should be rewarding to you both and play is a great way to bond.
Redo some basic training – with everyone out of the house separation anxiety often creeps up. The best way to avoid this is to remind your dog of who is leader so that he doesn’t stress while you are away. It is also a way to provide mental stimulation and tire out your dog. You can always sign up for Dog Haus Training Essentials to learn more on how to be your dog’s leader and provide them with the exercise, discipline and affection they need.
Bring your dog to The Dog Haus or another dog daycare that has full day training and socialization for your dog. That way your dog is out of the house so he cannot destroy things and is being fulfilled by getting exercise, socialization and mental stimulation.
Hire a dog walker. If you are unable to walk your dog pay someone else to do it. Having a backyard is not enough. Dogs need to be walked everyday, without exception!
The best defence is a good offence. This awesome piece of advice believe it or not works wonders with dogs, especially those who are anxious around loud noises. Being able to predict what your dog is going to do before he does it, like how he may react to a sudden BOOM, will help to curb the behaviour. That means being aware of your dog and their surroundings to prevent negative behaviours so that you don’t have to correct them. Always be 10 steps ahead of them. Easy enough, right?
Sometimes it is! You may not be able to predict thunderstorms (nor rely on weather reporters for any help) but you can prepare yourself and your dog for when there will be fireworks. On holiday long weekends you can expect there will be fireworks that light up the sky once it’s dark out. The loud noises accompanied by such a beautiful sight can be frightening for your furry friend. Dogs may pace, shake, become destructive, or even run away. No one wants to see their pet in distress, so what exactly can you do?
Fireworks at Disney – Thomas Hawk, Flickr
Keep your dog indoors and whatever you do, fight the urge to caudal your dog! I cannot stress this enough. Petting and telling him, “it’s okay buddy” actually reinforces the dog’s anxious reaction. Instead of comforting him, you are confirming that the dog is reacting appropriately. You have now trained your dog to be frightened of loud noises. Instead, be proactive and exhaust your dog well before the fireworks go off. If your dog usually goes for an hour walk a day, go for a 3 hour hike! Tire your dog out so that he won’t even notice the sounds. During the fireworks it is important that you stay calm yourself. If you are startled by the sounds your dog will think he is supposed to do the same. Dogs pick up very easily on our energy so if you are frightened it will rub off on your dog. Try playing loud music to drown out the sound and distract you both.
Always remember that being proactive helps and you can even prepare your dog for certain situations before they happen. If you have a puppy and you don’t want him to be startled by loud noises, try desensitizing him to the sounds by playing thunderstorms and firework clips off the internet in your own home when he is in a calm, relaxed state. Act normally and if you remain calm your dog will too. Walking your puppy on busy streets where there are buses, cars honking, and kids on skateboards are also ways to socialize your dog and expose them to unpredictable sounds that could spook them later in life if they are not used to them.
Try out these methods this Victoria Day when the fireworks sound. Hope you and your pet have a safe and enjoyable long weekend!