Daycare sounds like the ultimate cure for anxious dogs. Having constant supervision, interaction, and activity should make for one happy pup, right? Well, in the case of dogs suffering from separation anxiety, daycare is actually a pretty miserable time. Imagine being in a room swarming with strangers when all you want is to be safe at home with your human. Instead, you’re stuck in this social scene for an indefinite amount of time. Yikes!
When owners are faced with destructive dogs, neighbors that complain of barking, and an overall difficult time getting out of the house without causing an episode, daycare sounds like an extremely tempting solution. And although daycare is not a solution for separation anxiety, there are options for dog owners combatting this problem with their pups.
What triggers separation anxiety?
First, the most important thing to do is to learn the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety. Once you can conclude your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, you can figure out what is causing the behavior. Some of the most common triggers for separation anxiety are the following:
- Being left alone for an indefinite period of time | Many dogs experience separation anxiety if left at home during their owner’s workday with nothing to do. Dogs will then find a way to release their anxiety– whether it’s barking through the window, digging a hole in the yard, or eating your shoes. Watching owners get ready to leave the house commonly triggers anxiety in dogs because they know a long day alone at home awaits them.
- A major life change | If you move, get a new job and routine, or make another significant life change, your dog notices! Of course, change is inevitable and when your pet is a part of your life, those changes affect them as well.
- Being rehomed | If you adopted your dog, you’re probably left wondering of the life they left behind. Rehomed dogs experience major life changes which can shake up their world. Rehoming can cause separation anxiety to develop in dogs, but it’s not a given.
- Losing a companion | Losing a human or animal companion is never easy, and the same goes for your dog. Whether it’s through moving, death, or breakups, your dog notices when someone is all of a sudden missing from your home.
Why daycare won’t cure anxiety
If your dog’s separation anxiety is triggered when you leave, dropping them off at daycare is still doing just that. Not all dogs like daycare and anxious dogs have an especially hard time at daycare. All the while, they’re thinking Where is my human? Do I live here now? Who are all these dogs? Where is my safe place to go? When will I get to go home? Essentially, daycare does not answer the root of your dog’s anxiety.
The cure for your dog’s separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is a case-by-case situation. Dogs who experience separation anxiety greatly benefit from behavioral modification training. That’s a fancy way of saying, dogs need to unlearn their separation anxiety. Through operational conditioning, your trainer will unwind anxious behavior while introducing positive experiences and rewards associated with your dog’s triggers. Therefore, your dog comes to associate more positive experiences with their triggers, and eventually realize they don’t have to fear them.
Once you can unwind their anxious behaviors, it’s important to give your dog a routine of task-driven activities. Because just like us, depression and anxiety occur in dogs if they feel they have no purpose or outlets. Giving dogs a meaningful day with activities and exercise is a major way to combat anxious and depressive symptoms. And while training is ultimately the best solution for unwinding anxious behaviors, there are several things you can do in the meantime to help your anxious dog.
Here are 7 Tips and Tricks to reduce separation anxiety in dogs:
- Avoid an over-enthusiastic greeting when entering your home. Greeting your dog with an excited and high pitched tone only encourages a hyperactive state.
- Take your pup for a walk before you go. A lot of anxiety is tied to an under-stimulated body. Taking your dog for a walk before leaving the house helps get rid of any unused stored energy.
- Avoid a goodbye right before you leave the house. Try saying goodbye long before you walk out the door to eliminate possible stress.
- Start small. Try leaving the house for 10-15 minutes at a time, and gradually increase the time away from your home.
- Puzzle toys. Hide snacks in a puzzle toy in your home to occupy your pup’s mind while you’re away. For example, freezing a KONG overnight and giving it to your dog in the morning before you go to work gives them something to look forward to during the day.
- Introduce “triggers” in a positive, unusual way. Say your dog starts getting anxious when you grab your keys or put on your shoes. What actions do they associate with these objects? Try identifying the objects that trigger your dog’s anxious behavior, if there are any. Once you do that, try incorporating these objects into situations where you then spend time with your dog. As your dog comes to make positive associations with the objects, doggo’s anxiety around them should cease.
- Give dogs something to look forward to during the day. As we discovered, the root of anxiety is really dogs being separated from their owner. Providing a puzzle treat, a walker, or Group Classes all give dogs meaningful activities to look forward to while you’re away.
One step at a time
Separation anxiety does not have to rule your dog’s life. By taking the right steps, you can absolutely help your dog unwind their separation anxiety. If you have questions, we are always here to help owners find solutions for their dogs. Additionally, our training programs are available to dog owners in the Los Angeles area. From behavioral to obedience training, we help you create programs that speak to your dog’s needs. We believe all dogs and their situations are unique, and our training speaks to that fact. We wish you the best of luck on your training journey, and if you have any questions regarding separation anxiety in dogs, drop a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!