There is no doubt that over the last couple of weeks our pets have gotten pretty used to our nonstop presence at home. It’s understandable that they have probably welcomed extra snuggles, walks, and playtime with open paws. Now that some states are starting to phase into reopening, it may be time to consider the issue of separation anxiety with your pet.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Imagine walking into your house after a long day at work and you are greeted by your dog who is so happy to see you, it looks as if he is smiling and is acting like you have been gone for years. After glancing up from your ecstatic doggo, you look around the room and notice white, fluffy snow like stuffing strewn all about the floor, only to realize there is a gaping hole in your couch. As you further inspect, you realize your dog has gone to the bathroom multiple times, tried digging to China through your carpeted flooring, and the back of your front door appears as if a lion used it as a scratching post. Yet, there is your dog, thrilled to see you after hours of being alone.
When it comes to our beloved pets, separation anxiety occurs when they become extremely upset when separated from us (their owners). It can be caused by various issues such as a change in family, home, schedules, or even the loss of a family member. When left alone, animals can become very distressed and destructive.
Lighter cases of separation anxiety can include drooling or whining and crying when their pet parents are getting ready to leave the house. More extreme examples of separation anxiety include destroying furniture, going to the bathroom indoors (when they typically don’t), and even escape attempts, which can become very life-threatening for the animal.
How to Help Your Pet with Separation Anxiety
Depending on how severe your pet’s case of separation anxiety ranges, there are a few options, such as counterconditioning and desensitization, that you can try to help calm him down. Counterconditioning is good for mild cases of separation anxiety while desensitization is used for more severe cases.
Counterconditioning is often used to help convert anxious behavior into a more relaxed state. It sounds technical, but basically all counterconditioning is, is using a positive association with being left alone. For example, when you are getting ready to leave your dog, put him in his crate, and reward him with one of his favorite toys! Food stuffed toys, antlers, or chew toys are great because they help to keep them distracted for longer periods of time and can be very enticing. The key here is as soon as you get home, take the toy away so that the dog realizes that when you leave, he gets to play with his favorite toy.
Desensitization is another option and sometimes requires the assistance of a trained professional animal behaviorist. This usually involves a process of figuring out what triggers your dog’s anxiety before you leave the house, desensitizing these triggers, and slowly working up to leaving the house. You would practice leaving the house for just a few minutes at a time and gradually build up to being gone for extended periods of time.
Crate Training to Help Reduce Anxiety
Crate training is a wonderful thing and can help to keep your pet safe (as well as your personal belongings) while you are not at home. Having your dog go in the crate when your home is a good way to get him used to being in there and getting him to realize this is his safe place. When crate training, you want to make sure that the crate is big enough for your pup to be able to move around comfortably and use the crate as a positive reinforcement. By associating the crate as his safe haven in addition to counterconditioning or desensitizing, this will help in controlling your dog’s separation anxiety.
Let’s suppose that after a while your dog’s separation anxiety diminishes throughout the day, but you are still not ready to let him have free range of your home for the entire time you are away. Enter Kennel Key! This device provides you with full control of your pup’s kennel and will help you to determine when/if you want to let your dog out of his crate during the day, while you are away. Not only does Kennel Key help to keep your pet safe in case of an emergency, but you can also set a timer to release your pet from his crate automatically.
The great thing about Kennel Key is that you can use it from anywhere at any time, all with a simple touch of your phone. Therefore, if you decide during the day your pup has calmed down enough and is showing normal behavior, you can use Kennel Key to unlock your pet’s crate. Based on your dog’s behavior and level of anxiety, you can let him out a few minutes before you get home from work. If he behaves well, then you can gradually work up to longer intervals of time that you let him out before you arrive at home. He may rejoice at the freedom, or he may continue to hang out in his crate until you get home. Either way, he now has the option to move around the house freely if he so chooses.
Separation anxiety is something that a lot of pet owners deal with on a daily basis. Remember you do not want to get angry, yell, or discipline your dog while he is dealing with this anxiety-it will only open up another door to stress and anxiety! With lots of patience, training, and positive reinforcement it is something your pet can eventually overcome.