How To Help Dogs With Separation Anxiety?
Sharing your home with a dog is an amazing experience. And living together with their family is very natural to dogs: No matter their breed or their age, dogs are highly social beings. Nevertheless, we sometimes have to leave the house without them. Many dogs react to this with stress and anxiety, fearing that we will never return. In this article, we will explain how to prevent your dog from becoming anxious in the first place. We will also speak about how to alleviate and even cure any existing separation anxiety.
How To Prevent And Cure Separation Anxiety
Many dogs react to being left alone with nervous barking, whining, pacing and other signs of stress. Some dogs get so nervous when left alone that their incessant barking is aggravating the neighbours. Others scratch on doors or chew on sofas whilst their owners are gone. So, what can you do to stop such destructive behaviours? And what if you have a puppy? Young dogs instinctively react with fear and anxiety when they get separated from their family. This is only natural and to be expected. And yet, we can take preventative measures to ease our puppies into being on their own.
1. Crate Train Your Dog
The best thing you can do to prevent, or counteract, separation anxiety is to crate train your dog. Here at Fenrir, we are big believers in the benefits of crates. Of course, conditioning a dog to associate positive experiences with the crate takes time.
Nevertheless, crate training is perfect for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety. It helps dogs to calm down. Crate training also prevents dogs from becoming destructive in the house. Of course, we always should provide enough exercise and mental stimulation to balance out our dog’s crate time. As we like to say: Tired dogs are good dogs – and tired dogs are also happy dogs. Crates are extremely effective tools for inducing a state of calm relaxation. And calm, relaxed dogs will generally not feel the need to bark without good reason.
Crates are highly effective training tools. But the concept of crate training raises many questions, especially for novice dog owners. You may ask yourself:
✓ How big should the crate be?
✓ For how long can I leave my dog in the crate?
✓ When should I start crate training my puppy?
✓ How can I stop my puppy from crying in their crate?
✓ My dog hates their crate – what now?
2. Provide Mental Stimulation Tools
Crates have numerous benefits. They keep dogs safe, prevent them from chewing, facilitate housebreaking, and provide a comfortable sleeping space for them. Once a dog has associated their crate with feelings of calm relaxation, they will voluntarily use this space.
But if your dog already suffers from separation anxiety, they may refuse to go into their crate when they see you grab your keys, or put on your shoes. Typically, the first two minutes after you leaving the house are the worst for your anxious dog. If you succeed in distracting your dog’s mind for those initial few minutes, chances are they will settle down – and probably spend most of your away-time with sleeping. (This is also why we recommend tiring your dog out well before leaving them alone at home.)
One of the best ways to bridging the first few minutes of your absence is by providing mental stimulation: Puzzle toys, slow feeding bowls, fillable chew toys and snuffle mats are perfect tools to occupy your dog’s mind, and to prevent their nervous energy from building into anxiety or even panic. Giving your dog something to work on occupies their minds and their bodies.
Most dogs are very food-motivated - especially if you reduce their meal size, or wait with feeding them until you are ready to go out. Let’s say for example that you habitually pour some kibble into their bowl early in the morning. Now, if your dog becomes anxious whenever you leave the house, it may be time to change this feeding routine. To do this, put your dog’s ration in your Fenrir Foraging Mat and place the mat into their crate. Close the crate door whilst you are getting ready to go out. By letting your dog watch this entire process, you reinforce their positive associations with the crate. In this way, your dog will eagerly wait to be allowed in there. And by giving your dog access just before you leave, you essentially re-program their mind: After a few repetitions of this new routine, they will associate you leaving the home with them getting access to their food. The Fenrir Foraging Mat keeps dogs occupied for decent amounts of time. And once they have finished eating, they will probably start snoozing before too long.
Snuffle mats mimic a dog’s natural way of eating: In the wild, canines have to use their nose, teeth, paws, eyes and mind to forage for food on the ground. Another great tool for keeping your dog busy in your absence is the Fenrir Hammer. You can fill this durable, easy-to-clean toy with treats, kibble, peanut butter or meat paste. Filled and then frozen, the hardy Hammer keeps dogs entertained for quite a while. All you have to do is put food into it, freeze it, and then, place it inside the crate. In this way, your dog quickly learns to connect crate-time with amazing things, such as toys and food. Both the Hammer and the Foraging mat are suitable for puppies and adult dogs.
Crates and slow feeding tools are highly effective for preventing and counteracting canine separation anxiety. With patience and perseverance you will succeed in conditioning your dog to lose their fear of being alone. When balanced with plenty of outdoor exercise, training and affection, such alone-time in the crate is good for dogs: It builds their confidence, and helps energetic dogs to get their daily dose of rest. There is nothing wrong with implementing a few hours of crate-time into your daily routine. And once your canine companion has learned to associate your leaving with calm relaxation, food and fun toys, you can even leave the crate door open. Before too long, you will be able to leave the house without having to worry about your dog becoming destructive. At this point, they will have earned the right to enjoy their freedom in the home. Should you need any “hands-on” help with this process, we recommend contacting a local trainer who can come to your house. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Stay calm, stay consistent, and you will succeed!