Even in today’s work-from-home economy, there are times when you’ll have to leave your dog home alone. For some pets, this can be a stressor, resulting in unwanted behaviors, such as lapses in toilet training and the destruction of personal items.
Let’s take a brief look at separation anxiety in dogs and explore some potential solutions to help keep your canine companion busy and happy while alone at home.
What is separation anxiety?
Dogs are by nature pack animals. As pets, they tend to bond strongly with the members of their human “pack.” So when one or more of the pack members are away, it’s cause for concern. When left home alone, your dog may feel confused, bored, or stressed until the pack is reunited again.
Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs tend to be behavioral. Some pets will soil rugs or have other breakdowns in potty training, while some will chew up their owners’ personal items. Some will howl or vocalize for long periods while their person is out. In extreme cases, dogs have clawed through doors and chewed away molding while left home alone for the day.
Separation anxiety can also affect your dog’s health. Some dogs refuse to eat when their people are away, and this can result in nutritional or gastrointestinal issues if severe.
Keeping your dog busy when you’re away
So how can you keep your dog from indulging in destructive behaviors while you’re out of the house? Here are a few tips you can put into action today.
Keep your pet well-exercised
One way to ease your dog’s anxiety is to keep your pet well exercised. A regular regimen of walks and play can burn off a lot of the “nervous energy” that can cause your pet to act out when left alone. Try tiring your dog with a good run before you plan to leave home. The exercise will help you both and can help calm your pet while you’re out.
Provide toys for distraction
Giving your pooch an ample supply of favorite toys can lessen the chances of your animal turning to destructive behavior to reduce stress. Try filling a sturdy toy (like a Kong ball) with peanut butter. This will provide lots of enjoyment for your pet while providing comfort and nutrition.
Give your dog something to watch
Some dogs can be entertained simply by having a window in which to perch. You can set your pet’s favorite cushion by the window to provide some visual stimulation. Another approach is to leave the TV on while you’re away. While most dogs don’t “watch” TV the way humans do, the sound of voices can give the impression of a busy household, which can relieve your pet’s stress while you’re out.
Make a game of it
Dogs love solving puzzles, so if you want to keep your pet from stress-related behaviors, you can try leaving some fun and puzzling challenges for your pet. One way to do this is to create a “busy bucket.” Simply take a few of your pet’s favorite toys and treats, and place them in a plastic bucket, obscured by some hand towels. Your pet can discover hours of enjoyment playing and snacking. Or you can try a scavenger hunt—conceal a few treats and toys in safe hiding places around the house. Your pup will have to use its sniffer to find them all. This not only occupies your pet but also reinforces its hunting instincts.
Leave some ice cubes out
Many dogs love chewing ice cubes. It’s safe and pretty much mess-free. Chewing on ice (our dog loves it) gives your pet needed hydration while you’re away. Just leave some ice cubes in a bowl near your pet’s food and water, and your dog will do the rest.
Provide toys your pet can destroy
Some dogs just like to chew things up. So if you have one of those, don’t despair. Try saving some old cardboard boxes and leave them out as chew toys for your pet. This will help release any nervous energy while making it less likely that your pet will target your slippers.
Try some companionship
Just as we need socialization and community to stay healthy and engaged, so does your pet. Try scheduling a playdate with another pet owner. Be sure your pets are compatible and get along well. A guest pet in the house can help keep both animals less stressed. If that sounds like double the trouble, try a “doggie-daycare.” Look in your area for services that will watch and feed your pet while you’re away. This gives your pet a chance to get out of the home while you are, and provides ample stimulation, exercise, and play to combat stress.
We hope these tips prove helpful. At Figo, your pet’s health is important to us, and when your pup's on their own, a rogue sock or garbage bag can turn into a huge hazard unexpectedly. That’s why we offer customizable policies, without confusion. Don’t let a sudden accident leave you wondering how you’ll make your monthly expenses. Get a quote today.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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