My dog Roxy hates it when she is left at home alone.
I don't have a set schedule and I leave the house at different times, so she never knows when to expect me to leave or how long I will be gone for. I don't think she has true separation anxiety, but she does become stressed once she realizes that I am leaving. When she notices, she will start to whine, bark, pace, follow me around the house, can't settle down, and sometimes she will sit inside her crate wants to tell me that she wants to come with me.
I try not to make a fuss about leaving or letting her know that I am leaving so that she isn't encouraged to act anxious and so that she doesn't get praise for being anxious. I think that it is important to remember that dogs are always looking at our reactions and it can be easy to rewarded a dog for incorrect behaviour. If she gets special attention every time she starts to act anxious, she will act anxious just to get that special attention.
I needed to find a way to reduce her stress and to make sure that she would be able to settle down when I was gone. I could never tell what room she was in or where she slept because when I do return home, she is always waiting for me at the door. I hoped she didn't stay at the door the whole time I was gone.
What happens while I am away?
Is she acting stressed when I leave because she is bored? scared? lonely?
Roxy appears to like to know what is going on. Even though she is a little dog, she thinks that she is a guard dog. She is a miniature pincher and that breed of dog is very protective and do tend to act like guard dogs. She always needs to know what is happening around the house. She wants to know who is home, who is in the yard, and she needs to approve of every guest. She jumps at every sound and is always on alert. She will also run to the window at every little sound.
It is important to know her personality well because by knowing that she likes to be a guard dog, I know that being a guard dog does not cause her stress. She enjoys guarding the house.
I started tell her that I was going to leave. Before I started to get ready to leave, I would say "Roxy, I am going out soon" Once ready to leave, I would get down to her level, so I would sit on the floor and look into her eyes, and tell her that I am going out, that she is going to stay, guard the house and that I will be back soon. It was important for me to look in her eyes because that is the only way I know that she is listening to me. Roxy is very hyper and always bouncing around, I know that I need to look into her eyes to ensure that she is listening. I did this for about a month every time I left the house.
Now, when I leave.. just before I go out the door, I say one simple sentence, "Roxy, you stay and I'll be back". I say her name to get her attention. I let her know that she will be staying. She understands that command "stay". I let her know that I will return, I am not going away forever. Once I say that sentence, she turns away from me and walks towards the bed. Instead of being anxious and wondering what is going on, she goes to lie down and get comfortable because she knows that she will be alone.
I now know that I have reduced her anxiety.
She just wanted to be aware of what was happening.
Do you have any experience with separation anxiety? How have you tried to reduce anxiety and stress in your dog when you are gone?
Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.― Orhan Pamuk
Click here for a video of what some dogs do when they are left alone.
Click here for how to recognize separation anxiety, some tips, and how to prevent anxiety in dogs when left alone.