Easing Your Dog’s Anxiety
For lots of us who work there is a painful moment every morning when we leave the house. You’re in the car, ready to back out of the driveway, when you look back at the house and you see your dog staring mournfully at you from the window. He looks at you like you’re abandoning him forever. At that moment you feel enough guilt to sink into the earth and die. You’re leaving your poor dog home alone all day. You’re his best friend and all you can imagine is how sad and lonely he’s going to be without you.
Wherever you live, or however many pets you have, you probably experience some version of this guilt when you leave your home. (My dogs used to stare at me out the living room window when we lived in town. Now that we live in the country they gather at the back gate and watch me as I get in the car.) In actuality, many pets are well-adjusted and cope very well to their owners’ daily absences. However, they all seem to have the sad, guilt-inducing look down pat. And, quite a few pets do seem to become lonely and bored during the day. Some even suffer from separation anxiety .
Your pet can show his loneliness and boredom in a lot of different ways. I once had an Irish Setter who took out her frustration at being left alone in the house by “redecorating.” Unfortunately, her idea of redecorating the house included things like digging holes in sofa cushions and strewing books all over the living room. She even unwound cassette tapes and ran around the room with them. When I came home it looked like she’d had a party.
Other pets can chew on your things, claw and scratch at doors, or potty in the house from anxiety. Dogs are very social animals and it’s not usually part of their nature to be alone. Whether they are fearful for themselves when left alone or fearful for you out in the big, bad world, they can become nervous if they are alone with nothing to do.
Fortunately, there are some good ways to combat loneliness and boredom. Here are my top 10 ways:
1. Herbal Remedies - Sleepytime Tonic is very helpful at soothing and calming dogs who are stressed at being left alone. It’s a natural herbal product that can help your dog relax while you’re away from home. Sleepytime Tonic contains herbs such as valerian, passion flower and Skullcap and Back Flower Essences to help your dog relax when he’s anxious. These herbs have been used for centuries for relaxation and calming purposes. You can give the tonic to your dog orally or put it in your dog’s water supply so he can get a little several times a day to help him stay calm while you’re away from home. Sleepytime Tonic works well for dogs with all kinds of anxiety — whether it’s separation anxiety, nervousness from fireworks, or anxiety about traveling.
2. Training- You can work on desensitizing your dog to your absences. Go through all the motions for leaving the house — take your keys, your purse, your briefcase — whatever. Leave the house for just a couple of minutes and come back. Let your dog see that you don’t always leave the house for long periods of time. Start the car and come back inside. Let your dog get used to seeing you come and go for these brief periods until they start to feel better about seeing you leave.
When you leave the house keep things very low-key. Don’t have emotional scenes with your dog or your dog will think there is something to worry about. Likewise, when you come home, keep things quiet and calm. Let your dog know that coming and going are not a big deal. Don’t act like leaving your dog is the end of the world.
3. Activities Galore! Make sure that your dog has lots of things to do while you’re away at work. There are plenty of great interactive toys on the market these days. There are toys that:
- challenge your dog to find the treat and test his IQ
- toys within toys
- talking toys
- toys that let you record a message for your dog.
- light up and flash laser lights
- There’s even an ice lick toy that your dog has to lick to get to the toys and treats inside (probably best as an outside toy). One fun toy has bacon, chicken and peanut butter-scented bubbles!
These great interactive toys can entertain even the sulkiest dogs. Check around and you may find something that will interest your dog. You don’t have to limit yourself to bones and chew toys.
- Don’t forget the old favorite Kongs — they’re still great for keeping a dog busy trying to get the treat out!
4. Virtual Pet Barriers - If your dog tends to destroy things while you’re away from home you may want to consider setting up a dog room. You could confine him to one room or one part of the house where he can’t cause much damage. It’s easy to do this if you use dog gates (or baby gates). You can also use virtual pet barriers. A virtual pet barrier is a training system for your dog. You plug a transmitter dish into a wall socket. Your dog wears a spray receiver collar. When your dog approaches a designated off-limit area the dish emits a low frequency signal. If your dog ignores the signal his collar will release a spray to let him know that he’s gone past his boundary. Your dog learns quickly to respond to the signal and doesn’t get sprayed. This way you can teach your dog to stay out of rooms where you don’t want him to go. You can also teach him to stay away from other things he shouldn’t bother, such as garbage, Christmas trees, and so on. There are similar virtual pet barriers for outdoor use.
5. Clean Water - You can also look into self-dispensing water and food bowls. Maybe your dog hates to drink old water? Maybe he would be happier if he had some fresh food to eat while you’re away from home? There are some good self-dispensers on the market that could keep your dog happy while you’re away.
6. Catch some zzzzzs in style - Don’t forget to provide your dog with a nice bed while you’re away from home. There are plenty available. Your dog may prefer your expensive sofa or even your bed, but it’s nice if he has his own bed available, too.
I know that it sounds like you’re providing your dog with food and provisions for weeks instead of eight hours, but if you can make him happy while you’re at work you’ll both be a lot happier.