How to Minimize Your Rescue Dog’s Separation Anxiety
Rescue dogs suffer from separation anxiety far more than dogs who have been with their families since puppyhood. Since the majority of the Hounds Lounge pack are rescues, we know a thing or two about minimizing rescue dogs’ separation anxiety.
If your rescue pooch is struggling to cope when left alone, you will find the below infurrmation very helpful. Keep reading for solutions to alleviate your rescue dog’s separation anxiety.
What is Canine Separation Anxiety?
Furrst things furrst, let’s get the term straight. The American Kennel Club describes separation anxiety as “when your dog exhibits extreme stress from the time you leave [them] alone until you return.” Their level of distress can range from mild to severe, and it can manifest in a variety of behaviors.
6 Signs Your Rescue Dog Might Have Separation Anxiety
Everybody – and every dog – makes mistakes from time to time. However, if your rescue dog consistently shows the below symptoms when left home alone, they might have separation anxiety.
- Destructive chewing on your belongings
- Howling, barking and whining
- Excessive panting or drooling
- Having accidents in the house
- Digging and scratching at exits such as doors and windows
- Pacing before you leave, while you’re gone and when you arrive home
Even if your dog only exhibits a few of these symptoms, they still might be suffering from separation anxiety. However, don’t mistake boredom or lack of obedience for separation anxiety. If your dog wreaks havoc on your home while you’re gone but acts relaxed when you leave the house and upon your return… Fido probably just needs more training!
3 Reasons Rescue Dogs Might Experience Separation Anxiety
Dogs who did not grow up with their current family can often come with doggie baggage – but that doesn’t make them damaged goods. They simply need some extra love and care to overcome their confusion and/or trauma. Below are reasons why your rescue dog might suffer from separation anxiety.
1. They were uprooted from their home.
As we all know, dogs are man’s best friend. When they are surrendered to a shelter and this bond is broken, many dogs can have a hard time recovering. Maybe their family could no longer take care of them. Even worse, maybe their owner passed away.
Whatever the reason, if your dog was abandoned or dropped off at a shelter, this could definitely cause them to feel separation anxiety.
2. They aren’t used to being alone.
If your dog has spent most of their life in a shelter, they are accustomed to being around other dogs and hoomans, possibly 24/7. Solitude might be foreign and scary to them.
3. They have a history of separation anxiety.
Your adopted dog might have been a victim of separation anxiety long before they stepped paw into your home. Some dogs are surrendered to shelters because of their separation anxiety. According to Dog Discoveries:
Each year, countless dogs with separation anxiety are surrendered to shelters because dog owners don’t have the time, the funds, patience or resources to help these dogs. When these dogs are surrendered, it’s like passing a hot potato from hand to hand because new dog owners ultimately face the same problems.
With every failed adoption, separation anxiety just gets worse. It’s extremely beneficial when shelters are aware of a dog’s separation anxiety, so they can let potential pet pawrents know of the dog’s struggles. This can help stop the cycle of adopting and surrendering.
Separation anxiety shouldn’t be a deal breaker in a rescue dog, but it requires commitment from the adopter. If you have not yet adopted a shelter dog but are considering adding one to your fur fam, we recommend checking out our guide to dog rescues in Arkansas.
Ultimately, it all comes down to change. Dogs are creatures of habit, and losing a loved one or a safe space can hit them hard, causing the problematic coping mechanisms listed earlier in the blog.
9 Ways to Help Your Rescue Dog Deal with Separation Anxiety
Whether your rescue dog’s separation anxiety is mild or severe, it can be minimized over time. Below are a paw-ful of solutions that might work for your dog. You can try them one at a time or several in combination. It’s worth giving all of them a shot and seeing which are most effective for your pooch.
1. Desensitize Your Dog to Their Triggers
Dogs are highly intelligent and can pick up on cues that you are leaving the house. They might become upset when they see you pick up your keys, walk out the door and so on. To help minimize separation anxiety, you can take the power away from these triggers and desensitize your dog to them.
At random times during the day, you can pick up your keys and jingle them, but don’t leave the house. You can also walk out the door and close it as if you are leaving, but come back seconds or moments later. Whatever your dog’s triggers are, perform them randomly without actually leaving your dog for your usual amount of time. This way, your dog will begin to stop associating these acts with you leaving them.
Hopefully, your dog will stop giving a second thought to what once triggered their painful emotions.
2. Increase Your Time Apart
Even though it’s hard for both of you to be apart, your dog has to learn to be a lone wolf somehow. They can only learn that by being alone. Depending on the severity of your dog’s separation anxiety, you might have to take puppy steps when you first start this separation training.
Maybe you can begin by staying in separate rooms for five, ten or fifteen minutes. If your dog does well, you can increase the time in small increments.
Eventually, you can start leaving your dog alone in the house for five, ten or fifteen minutes, increasing the time if your dog has a pawsitive response. They will begin to realize you aren’t leaving them furrever – just furr a while.
3. Create a Safe Space for Your Dog
Not all dogs – especially those suffering from separation anxiety – can be trusted with free reign of the house. To lessen destruction to your furniture and belongings, you might need to designate one room as your dog’s safe space, and make it as cozy as possible. Leave them with a comfy bed and lots of toys, plus food and water. Extra points if the room has a window with a view!
It’s also a good idea to leave them with a shirt or towel that has your scent on it, which can help mimic your presence and, therefore, calm your dog.
While you’re at home, make sure your dog spends lots of alone time in their safe space so they will feel completely comfurrtable in it when you’re gone.
Check out our blog on how to best handle leaving your dog at home alone.
4. Be the Top Dog
Your dog might be the center of your world, but, in reality, you are still the boss! Sometimes, you have to show it. Teach your dog to mind commands so that they don’t expect you to constantly be at their bark and call. “Stay” is a good command to start with. The Humane Society writes:
Teach your dog the sit-stay and down-stay commands using positive reinforcement. This training will help them learn that they can remain calmly and happily in one place while you go to another room.
All your rescue dog ever wanted was a home, and you have given them a life of luxury. Knowing the pain they’ve been through in their past life, it might be hard for you to be strict with them – but it’s definitely necessary!
Ultimately, this “Top Dog” tactic makes your rescue pooch earn their treats and understand that they are the fur baby, not the pack leader!
5. Play it Cool with Your Exits and Entrances
According to the American Kennel Club:
It’s also important to play it cool when you leave or return to your home. You can greet your dog with love, but don’t get over the top emotional. Keep things calm and without fanfare. If you get worked up, your dog will see your comings and goings as a major event to worry over. Plus, if you return home to damage or accidents, don’t punish your dog. You will only add to [their] anxiety or worsen the problem.
Give your dog a nice goodbye and hello, but don’t treat every meeting like your last, because that might be triggering to your rescue dog.
6. Exercise Your Dog
Just as exercise can help a hooman’s mental state, it can also work wonders for doggos! The Humane Society explains that:
Exercise and mental stimulation are critical to reducing anxiety and stress. Be sure your dog receives adequate exercise before you leave. Walking the same city block each day won’t reduce anxiety, but sniffing and exploring new places will.
Not to mention that exercise also makes your dog sleepy, which can help them rest while you’re away.
7. Leave Your Dog with a Tasty, Long-Lasting Treat
Treats can be a great distraction, especially when dogs have to work to get to them. Puzzle toys, which require time and effort to reach treats, can occupy your dog’s mind in your absence. Here are a few of our favorites:
- KONG toys, which are mentally stimulating and offer a playful bounce, can be stuffed with your dog’s favorite treats!
- The Hyper Pet IQ Treat Mat can be covered with wet dog food or any dog-friendly spread (like some peanut butters or yogurts), which your dog can lick on for a long period of time. It lasts even longer if you freeze it before serving it to your pooch.
- Sniffiz SmellyMatty Snuffle Mat for Dogs keeps your dog busy and calm as they sniff out food! You can hide an entire meal in this snuffle mat to result in a slow feeding. Bone appétit!
Impawtant Note: Only give your dog these kinds of toys/treats when you’re leaving the house!
Over time, your dog will begin to associate this special, hard-earned treat with you leaving – and this is a good thing! They won’t be sad to see you exit the house, because they will be so excited to enjoy this treat. They might even be the tiniest bit happy to see you go…
8. Take Them to Doggie Daycare
Doggie daycare is a great option for pooches who have trouble being alone. At facilities like Hounds Lounge, they can practice their social skills with other pooches and hoomans, and they can burn some of their anxious energy through exercise.
Your dog may not need to attend doggie daycare every single day – but going regularly can help them establish a routine and teach them that they can make it just fine without you! Soon enough, they will be positively triggered by the words: doggie daycare! Prepare for lots of tail-wagging.
9. Use Medication as a Last Resort
If all else fails and you have your vet’s blessing, medication is an option for treating separation anxiety.
Impawtant Note: Do not assume drugs will cure your dog’s separation anxiety. Medication is most effective when it’s paired with some of the methods above.
No matter which solutions you try out, remember to take it slow. Separation anxiety will not disappear overnight.
3 Tips for Dog Owners Who Might Be Feeling Separation Anxiety Themselves
Separation anxiety isn’t exclusively experienced by dogs! Time apart can be extremely ruff on pet pawrents too.
It’s extra hard when you’ve been working from home for so long and suddenly go back to the office. NPR covered this issue in the segment “Pandemic Puppies Face Separation Anxiety As Their Owners Go Back To Work,” discussing a lady who’s Chihuahua-Dachsund mix, Ivan, would scream at the door as she left for work:
She’s had Ivan for quite some time, and he’s always been a big ball of anxiety. But this yelping devastated her as she left the house every day. And at work, she couldn’t stop worrying about him. It was almost as if he passed his stress onto her.
Luckily, there are solutions for hoomans who worry about their rescue dog when they can’t be home with them all day.
1. Get a Pet Cam
Much like a baby monitor, pet cameras allow you to see what your pooch is up to while you’re away. Some cameras even have two-way audio and video, so your dog can see and hear you! You and your dog might find comfort in this virtual communication.
2. Visit Your Pet Mid-Day
If work is what is separating you from your pup, and you work near home, simply spend your lunch break with your dog! It gives you both something to look forward to, and it can help ease your dog into staying home alone all day long.
3. Have Full Trust in Your Pet Sitter or Dog Boarder
If you choose to leave your dog in the care of a pet sitter or dog boarder, you need to know they are pros. Get references, ask questions and meet them before trusting them with your dog.
Hounds Lounge offers tours outside of our peak hours, so you can check out where your dog will be staying and playing. When you see where and with whom your dog will spend their time, it makes you feel much more confident about leaving them. Plus, when your dog is at Hounds Lounge, you can always give us a call to check in on your fur baby!
Your Rescue Dog’s Separation Anxiety Can Become History
Separation anxiety can be treated and even cured. When your fur family puts in the work, every dog can have its day!
We wish you luck as you take on the challenging task of minimizing separation anxiety in your rescue dog. The end result will be worth it. Your woof went through so much before their adoption and now deserves the best, happiest and most carefree life pawsible.
When your pooch is ready for doggie daycare, our doggie doors are open! We’ll see you both at Hounds Lounge.