By Joe Wilkes
We might imagine our dogs gleefully doing the Tom Cruise Risky Business slide when we shut the door behind us in the morning, but the more likely scenario is that the dog is experiencing some level of separation anxiety. This separation anxiety might manifest itself as anything from nuisance barking or whining (unpleasant for the neighbors) to stinky surprises left for you when you return home (unpleasant for you). If your dog is one to chew his feelings, you may also find some prized possessions or furniture vandalized during your absence.
What to do?Staying home to watch Judge Judy with your lonely pooch every day probably isn’t a pragmatic long-term solution. So how do you help ease dog separation anxiety so you can go about your day without feeling like a monster and he can relax so you come home to man’s best friend instead of man’s craziest codependent roommate? Read on for practical tips to help ease dog separation anxiety.
Help separation anxiety by putting your dog to sleep (in a good way)
If you want a calm dog, it doesn’t get any calmer than sleep. Before you leave the house, make sure you schedule time for a brisk walk or a vigorous game of fetch in the backyard or nearby dog park. Having an anxious dog home alone is bad enough. Having a dog that is anxious and hyper is a recipe for disaster. Exercise helps calm your dog down in two ways. Physically, it tires your dog out, so he might be up for a nap while you’re away; and emotionally, exercise can level out your dog’s brain chemistry in the same way a good workout can leave humans exhilarated.
Hire a dog walker for dog exerise
The best-case scenario is you can come home for lunch and spend a little quality time to break up your dog’s day. But if your schedule or commute doesn’t always allow that, it may take a village. If you have someone close by with pets, this is a great time to encourage some neighborly reciprocity, where you can arrange to let each other’s pets out when the other one isn’t home. You could also pay the going child-labor rate to hire a trustworthy neighborhood kid to come by during the day to give your dog a little exercise and company. A more upscale option is to hire a local dog walker to come by and provide a professional field trip.
More dog toys, less noise
A bored dog left to his own devices may act out by chewing up your devices. Boredom can be as much of a cause for acting out as separation anxiety. For this reason, it’s vital to leave out your dog’s favorite toys and anything else you can think of that he can use to entertain himself in your absence. Dog toys make great diversions. Aside from keeping him away from your toys, you’ll provide distraction for your dog during the day, so he won’t be as anxious about you being gone. One word of caution: don’t rely on toys with treats hidden in them. Once the dog eats the treat (which could be in minutes), he’ll grow bored and move on to the furniture.
Are two dogs company or double trouble for separation anxiety?
A common solution that many pet owners advocate is to adopt a second dog to keep the first dog company. This can be a great idea or a bigger dog problem. There are many variables to consider, including the size, gender, breed, and temperament of your dog and of the potential new dog. Talk to your veterinarian about whether a second dog is a good idea for your current dog and what you should look for in a new companion. Adopting a second dog can bring a lot of happiness into everyone’s life, but it isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. You don’t want to be faced with a situation where you have fighting dogs or be forced to re-home a second dog who didn’t work out.
If you currently don’t have a dog, and you’re considering adopting one, think about whether your lifestyle is conducive to sharing your life with a dog. If you think your potential dog might be spending time home alone, that should factor in your decision when choosing your new friend. Look at breeds that are more low-energy and don’t need as much exercise or outdoor time. Better yet, consider adopting an older dog. Many older dogs have difficulty being re-homed, but can be a perfect fit for you. They typically are much calmer than puppies, and many are already housebroken. So don’t pass up a dog just because he’s been around the block a couple of times—it may mean he’s ready to take it easy.