Separation anxiety in dogs is a distressing condition characterized by excessive barking, destructive chewing, or other problematic behaviors when left alone. It is often triggered by a change in their routine or a traumatic event, leading to panic and stress. Their intense attachment to their owners leads to fear and anxiety when separated.
Separation anxiety is not only bad for dogs; it can also create problems for the owner. Apart from the dog’s destructive behavior, your neighbors can also complain against you, and you can end up being fined or your dog being taken away by Animal Services.
Hence, learning how to train your dog not to bark when left alone is important. Let’s check out different ways to control barking due to separation anxiety.
Tips to Control Dog Barking Due to Separation Anxiety
Training with Gradual Departures
Start by leaving your house for only a few minutes and gradually increase your time away. For example, at first, you might just step outside and immediately come back in. Then you might go out for five minutes, then ten, and so on. This can help your dog learn that you’re not leaving forever, and it can reduce their anxiety.
Establish a Safe Space
Create a safe, cozy area where your dog can feel secure when you’re not there. This could be a room with their bed, favorite toys, and familiar scents. For instance, if your dog feels secure in your laundry room surrounded by items that smell like you, this could be their designated safe space.
If your dog sees their crate as a safe haven, it can be a valuable tool for managing separation anxiety. However, crate training should be done carefully. For example, introduce the crate slowly, add comfy bedding, and offer treats and toys to make it a positive place.
Desensitization to Departure Cues
Many dogs start getting anxious as soon as they see signs you’re about to leave, like grabbing your keys or putting on your shoes. Try to desensitize your dog to these cues by performing them without leaving. For example, pick up your keys, sit back down, or wear your shoes and watch TV. Over time, these cues should lose their anxiety-inducing effects.
Distracting Toys or Treats
Before leaving, provide your dog with a special treat or toy that takes a long time to consume. A good example is a Kong toy filled with peanut butter or a challenging puzzle toy. This can distract them and help them associate your departure with positive experiences.
Exercise Before Leaving
A well-exercised dog is less likely to be anxious. Providing sufficient physical exercise before you leave can help your dog feel more relaxed. For example, taking your dog for a long walk or a play session in the park before you leave for work can help reduce anxiety levels.
Avoid Dramatic Departures and Arrivals
Try to keep your departures and arrivals low-key without much fanfare. For instance, don’t make a big deal when you leave the house or return. By doing so, you minimize the contrast between your presence and absence, which can help your dog feel less anxious.
Training and Behavior Modification
Working with a professional dog trainer or a behaviorist can help manage separation anxiety. They can tailor a program to your dog’s specific needs. For example, a behaviorist might use counter-conditioning techniques, changing your dog’s negative reaction to your departure into a positive one by associating it with good things, like treats or toys.
Use of Calming Products
Some products, like pheromone diffusers, calming collars, or anxiety wraps, can help soothe your dog’s anxiety. For instance, the Thundershirt is a popular anxiety wrap that applies gentle, constant pressure to calm anxiety, fear, and over-excitement in dogs.
Food & Water
It’s essential to provide your dog with a balanced diet to ensure they receive the right nutrients for their age, breed, and health condition. Using puzzle feeders can slow down fast eaters and make meals mentally stimulating. For instance, a slow-feeder dog bowl can make mealtime last longer and keep your dog engaged while eating, helping alleviate anxiety.
Pet cameras are an innovative way to keep an eye on your pets when you’re not around. These cameras often come equipped with two-way audio, allowing you to interact with your dog even when you’re away. Also, through monitoring, you’ll better understand what triggers your dog’s barking or anxiety, which can be extremely valuable information for any training program you’re implementing.
Bark collars are devices worn around a dog’s neck that discourage excessive barking. They detect your dog’s bark and then emit a stimulus such as a static shock, vibration, ultrasonic sound, or spray, which interrupts and discourages the behavior.
While bark collars can be effective, they should be used carefully and responsibly, as they can potentially cause stress or fear if used improperly. It’s always recommended to consult a pet behavior expert before using such devices, as improper use could increase anxiety or lead to other behavioral issues.
Hiring a Dog Walker
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, hiring a dog walker can provide them with human companionship and physical activity while you’re away. For example, a mid-day visit from a trusted dog walker can break up the day and help alleviate your dog’s stress and anxiety.
Doggie daycare is another excellent option for dogs with separation anxiety. These facilities provide socialization, playtime, and supervision for your dog during the day. For instance, attending doggie daycare can help your dog burn off energy, meet new friends, and distract them from their anxiety while you’re absent.
If your dog’s separation anxiety is severe, you may need to consult with a veterinarian. They can prescribe medication to help manage the anxiety. It’s crucial to remember that medication is not a complete solution but is often used in conjunction with behavioral modification techniques.
Why do Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety?
Dogs may develop separation anxiety due to various factors, including a change in environment or routine, a traumatic event, or the loss of a family member or another pet. Dogs are social animals and can become overly attached or dependent on their human family, leading to distress when left alone.
What does a Separation Anxiety Bark sound like?
A separation anxiety bark often sounds high-pitched, desperate and may be more repetitive and persistent than other types of barking. The bark can be accompanied by other signs of distress, like pacing, whining, or destructive behavior, further indicating the dog’s anxiety.