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Separation anxiety in dogs

Photographs: iStock

Text: Tarek Abu Sham

Dogs are social creatures who will give you attention no matter what. However, this unconditional love may create problems when you have to leave your dog alone at home.

Your dog may feel lonely when "left" alone. This is called separation anxiety, and dogs quickly become addicted to company. If this company has suddenly disappeared, then dogs can quickly become frustrated, sad, and scared.

Symptoms of a stressed dog can be obvious and include things chewed to pieces, faeces and urine on the floor, teeth marks on furniture, etc. Sounds terrible, right? If your dog is already suffering some separation anxiety, check out these tips to help improve the situation.

Five tips on fighting separation anxiety in dogs:

1. Provide your dog with enough exercise

It may well be that once in a while, we do nothing all day. It feels nice, cosy and well deserved. Our dogs also like to relax, but spending a whole day without activities is a huge no-no! Dogs need to be stimulated through both physical and mental activities. Dogs have different activity levels based on their breed and age. But whether you have a French Bulldog or a Rottweiler, they both need to have their activity levels met. Otherwise, they will get bored and amuse themselves, and you most likely will not be happy with that.

2. Turn on the music and provide a small space to roam

Silence can be calming to us, but too much quiet can be problematic. Having some music in the background for your dog will help provide some calm. Dogs are usually surrounded by people when they are at home, and even though it may not seem this way, they listen all the time. The radio will not replace you, but it will help fill the void. Also, the smaller the space that is available for your dog, the better. Many people leave their dogs in a kennel as the dog will feel safer, and it limits the risk of the destruction of objects.

3. Greetings and farewells

Do you kiss your dog before leaving home? Or say hello first thing when you get home? Doing that will only "hype up" the atmosphere, and then you disappear. Showing excessive emotion upon arrival can indicate that something should be celebrated, so your dog will interpret your next departure as something unwelcome and will make it harder for your dog to stay home alone and increase the level of separation anxiety. It is not wise to leave your dog alone for more than 5-7 hours a day - this applies to trained dogs. With puppies, the time is much shorter. Train your dog gradually by letting your dog think you are really leaving. Take the keys and lock the door behind you - wait a certain amount of time and then come back. Repeat the process several times a day. If your dog is calm, stay outside a little longer the next day. Stay calm when you leave or arrive as dogs pick up how you feel.

4. Give your dog some alone time

It's only natural to spend time with your dog when you're at home - talking, playing, or cuddling together. Keep in mind, though, that all this attention can affect your dog's well-being when you are not together. It is good that you want to spend a lot of time with your dog, but overstimulation can have negative consequences.

Is your dog running around and playing all day in the garden? It might be a good idea to turn it down a notch as it will shock your dog if the activities go from 100 to 0 when no one is home. So give your dog some alone time as it will help develop a little independence while you are together!

5. Extra help

To lend a hand while you're away, why not hire a dog sitter or walker who can come to your home, spend some time with your dog, and reduce the overall period of alone time? This will also provide your dog with some much-needed exercise and the opportunity to socialize.

No separation anxiety = no problems...almost.

Although separation anxiety is not the only problem we experience with our dogs, the anxiety can create a very bad mood. If the mood is bad for a long time, it can lead to inappropriate behaviour from both dog and owner.

Remember, should you need some assistance with your anxious dog, MyPeterinarian provides a professional to look after your dog while at work!

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