Treating separation anxiety

Working out why your dog reacts badly to being left alone can be tricky, particularly as research shows that half of dogs suffering with separation-related behaviour won't show any signs. That's why we've put together some top tips to help you understand what your dog is feeling when left alone and what you can try to do to help.

Our tips outline positive steps you can take if your dog is showing obvious signs of a problem, or if you don't know whether there's a problem but want to help your dog feel better when left alone. These activities will also help you to determine whether problems are being caused by other factors, such as lack of mental stimulation, leading to destructive behaviour, or perhaps noise disturbances leading to barking.

Leave a 'special' toy

As well as making sure that your dog has exciting things to do when you're with them, make sure you also give your dog a mentally stimulating toy, such as a stuffed 'kong', a meat-flavoured chew or a treat ball or cube. Make sure that this is a 'special' toy that they only get when you're not there. Remember to put away this toy when you return and also to take any food treats out of your pet's daily food allowance to avoid overfeeding.

Encourage your pet to relax during their independent time

Try to take your dog for a walk before you're due to go out, so they have the opportunity to go to the toilet and exercise. Return half an hour before you plan to leave and feed them a small meal - your dog will be much more inclined to relax!

Minimise disturbances

Some dogs will bark at the sight of other people or dogs passing by their window or in response to noises outside the home. Closing the curtains to reduce what your dog can see outside, leaving them in a quieter room or leaving the radio on to muffle outside noise can prevent your dog from being disturbed and barking.

Get a dog sitter

We recommend that you don't leave your dog alone for more than four hours. However, if your dog struggles with being alone they may start feeling anxious within minutes of you leaving. Using a dog sitting service means that someone can keep your dog company and take them for a walk while you're out so that they're not left alone. This is a good way of easing the stress they may feel when you're not there.

Avoid punishing your dog

If your dog misbehaves while you're out, it's important that you don't react badly. Your dog will become anxious about what you'll do when you return the next time you go out, making the anxiety and behaviour (like chewing and barking) worse. If you do come home to a mess, it's essential not to physically punish or shout at your dog. Try to avoid even letting your dog see that you're annoyed - let them outside before cleaning up.

Dogs who've been told off may lower their head, put their ears back and put their tail between their legs. Sadly, owners think that their dog looks guilty and tell them off because they know they've done wrong, but even if you take your dog to the 'scene of the crime', they won't associate your anger with their earlier behaviour. Your dog will simply become more anxious the next time you go out.

Seeking the help of a professional

If our treatment advice hasn't eased the separation-related behaviour, talk to a vet who knows you and your dog. They should then refer you to a clinical animal behaviourist. They will help you identify the underlying cause of the problem and develop a treatment plan that works for you and your dog.

For more information, read our learning to be left alone leaflet.  

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