Tips to Ease Dog Separation Anxiety When You Go on Holiday
Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavioural problems in dogs, not only causing distress to the dog, but also to the owner. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety and you are planning a trip this holiday season, you are likely to be quite worried as to how your pooch is going to cope with this.
Here are some tips to not only help your dog relax, but also enjoy himself, while you are away.
WHAT IS SEPARATION ANXIETY?
Separation anxiety refers to dogs who have become extremely dependent on their owner/s. When left alone, they end up becoming highly anxious and distressed.
How do you know if your dog suffers from separation anxiety?
These are a few common signs:
- Barking, whining and howling
- Pooping/peeing at unusual spots in the house
- Digging or scratching at doors, windows and walls
- Destructive behaviour
- Extreme panting and salivating
Wondering what causes separation anxiety to occur in the first place?
Dog separation anxiety can be initially triggered by a number of factors, such as:
- A distressing experience the first time the dog was left alone
- Being left alone frequently after getting used to constant contact with humans
- A change in routine
- Moving home
- The loss of a family member, or even another pet
THE IMPORTANCE OF MANAGING SEPARATION ANXIETY
It can be easy to ignore the signs of separation anxiety at first, believing that your dog will soon get used to being left alone.
For a few dogs, this may very well be true, but for the majority of dog separation anxiety cases, your pup’s symptoms will only get worse if the separation anxiety is left unmanaged. This can lead to severe behavioural problems, as well as your dog causing injury to himself while you are out.
How long can a dog be left alone for?
A puppy will need the toilet every couple of hours, meaning that they should never be left alone for longer than this. On the other hand, an adult dog can be left alone for between four and six hours. Of course, every dog is different, and these guidelines will vary depending on your dog’s individual personality.
If you plan on going away this holiday season, then you will need to make arrangements for someone to care for your dog. Your different options for this will be discussed in more detail below, but whichever you choose, you will still need to work on your dog’s separation anxiety before you leave in order to make the experience a positive one for your pup.
PRE-TRIP PREPARATIONS FOR SEPARATION ANXIETY
Whether you are going away for the weekend or for the entire holiday season, it is important that you begin preparing your dog for this as early on as possible.
Desensitizing your dog to you leaving the house
Most dogs will pick up on different cues that tell them that you’re about to leave the house, and this is when their separation anxiety will usually begin. From putting on your shoes to spraying perfume, all of these actions signal to your dog that they are about to be left alone.
This is where desensitizing comes in…
There are a few ways in which you can do this, such as:
- Distracting your dog with treats, whether this may be a stuffed Kong or sprinkling food around the house. This will help your dog to associate your leaving cues with something positive.
- Ignore your dog before leaving the house, as well as when you return. Elaborate goodbyes will only increase your dog’s anxiety.
- Leave your dog alone for just a couple of minutes to begin with, making sure that your dog isn’t barking or whining when you return. Slowly build up on this, leaving your dog alone for a few minutes longer each time.
- Carry out your leaving cues without actually leaving the house. For example, pick up your keys or put your shoes on, but then stay in the house. Repeat this action multiple times.
- Leave the TV or radio running to provide a distracting background noise for your pup
Establishing a routine
Dogs who are prone to separation anxiety don’t tend to do well when it comes to change.
This is why a regular routine is so important.
Yes, this routine will change once you leave, but there will be certain parts of the routine that can still be implemented by whoever is looking after your dog. Try having regular times each day for feeding, walking and playing, as this consistency will help your dog so much while you are away.
WHO SHOULD YOU LEAVE YOUR DOG WITH WHILE YOU ARE AWAY?
Picking the right person or company to care for your dog while you’re away is so important, especially with dogs who suffer from separation anxiety.
Consider a dog home boarder
If you can’t find a family member or a friend to stay at your house while you are on holiday, then a dog home boarding service is the next best option. Services such as Furries Loft board dogs in a home environment, allowing your dog to join their own canine family for the time you are away.
Before this happens, Furries Loft recommends that a pre-assessment visit should be made.
So that you can all be sure that your dog is comfortable in the home surrounding, and that your pup gets on with their resident dogs. It gives your dog’s boarders the chance to get to know your dog’s temperament, so that they can make any necessary changes to their space if your dog requires it.
This initial visit is especially beneficial to dogs with separation anxiety, as it gives them time to get to know their new surroundings, as well as their boarders, with the comfort of having you around. Spending some time getting to know your dog boarders yourself, and seeing how they interact with your pup, will also make it so much easier for you to relax when you are away.
Staying in a home environment, rather than kennels, will be much more comforting for your dog, and the personalized service and attention, along with the frequent walks, that a home boarder can provide will ensure that all of your dog’s needs are met. The routine that you have established for your dog can also usually be followed quite closely in a home environment.
As an added bonus, many home boarding services also provide photo and video updates to owners, enabling you to enjoy your vacation with the knowledge that your pooch is safe and having a fantastic time.
How about a professional pet hotel?
While these don’t provide the same level of one-on-one attention as a home boarder, they are better suited for dogs who are prone to escaping, or for those who have aggression issues. Many of these still offer photo and video updates, allowing you to see what you dog gets up to each day.
Whichever you decide to choose, here are a few tips to help your dog acclimatise to his new environment:
- Leave some familiar items with your dog boarder. This could be blankets, bowls, toys, or anything else that will provide a sense of comfort and reassurance to your dog. Some of your own clothing, which will hold your scent, may also help to keep your dog calm.
- Provide your dog boarder with your dog’s regular food. Keeping this consistent will not only be comforting for your dog, but will also help to prevent the digestive issues that can arise from separation anxiety
It goes without saying that whoever you choose to leave your dog with needs to be fully informed about your dog’s level of separation anxiety.
A CALMING DIET
The food that you feed your dog will have a direct impact on your dog’s behaviour, with dietary adjustments being something that can really help dog separation anxiety.
What should you be feeding to keep your dog calm and prevent separation anxiety?
Ideally, a natural dog food without any artificial ingredients. One that doesn’t contain too many carbohydrates or starches can also be beneficial.
The Grateful Dog provides exactly this, with fresh, small-batch, handmade meals that are gently cooked and portioned out into the amount that your dog needs.
In order to keep your dog’s blood sugar levels constant, and therefore reduce any mood swings, feeding your dog twice a day would be best. Opt for a larger meal in the mornings, followed by a smaller meal in the evenings after your dog has been walked. This is something that should be continued by your dog boarder.
Taking the steps necessary to manage dog separation anxiety will ensure that both you and your pooch are able to fully enjoy the holiday season. By implementing the methods mentioned above, you will be able to boost your dog’s confidence and slowly overcome the separation anxiety, resulting in a dog that is comfortable and happy when left alone.