How can I help my dog cope with separation anxiety

How does your dog feel when you leave it alone?

Do you ever wonder how dogs feel when we leave them alone?  Dogs are our best-friends – they eat, sleep and follow us around tirelessly when we are at home, so what do they get up to when you have to leave them alone?

It all depends on your dog’s temperament. Some dogs manage fine, while others will pace, bark, dig and destroy whatever they can. It is not their fault! They literally do not know what to do with themselves when you are not there. Therefore, they don’t deserve a punishment but rather a really BIG hug! It is said that pedigree dogs tend to be more prone to separation anxiety – labradors and retrievers at the top of the list.  Let’s find out how we can best help your dog adjust to being left alone.  

Can dogs perceive time?

Your dog lives in the moment. This doesn’t mean that it has no perception of what an hour is compared to what 4 hours is, especially when working out when their next meal is due! This understanding of time and memory allows them to learn from the past and be ready for the future without ever explicitly thinking about either one. Your dog most definitely knows when you are not around, but can’t easily work out when you will be back. If you follow a regular schedule every day (e.g. out by 7.30 am and in by 6 pm) then some dogs can more or less predict your comings and goings. However, when you don’t follow a predictable schedule, or suddenly change it, then unfortunately your pooch will not understand when you are coming back – even if you tell him or her.

Why do dogs develop separation anxiety?

Dogs are essentially pack animals. They are made to live in groups, rather than living a solitary life. Because they are domesticated, we have become their ‘pack’ and they see us as the leader. When we are not there, some dogs can feel anxious due to their instinct that they are not safe when they are separated from the pack.

Dogs handle being alone differently. Some cope reasonably well, especially if they are well adjusted and know more or less when you will be returning. Others really can’t deal with being left alone and can become anxious, leading to behaviours like howling, destroying the house or digging up the garden. Some breeds are more prone to this than others and dogs who have previously experienced abandonment (e.g. rescue dogs) or those who have been taken away from their mothers too early are especially susceptible. 

How can I help my dog cope with separation anxiety?

There are times when we have to go to work or to a friend’s birthday dinner (that doesn’t allow dogs!). You are unable to find a dog sitter and have to leave your baby at home alone. It happens – don’t feel bad! But never fear, Feelgood Pets is near, to come to the rescue and offer useful ways of helping your dog to cope with being left alone: 

  1. PetCalm - PetCalm is a natural safe homeopathic remedy to calm anxious, stressed and highly strung pets. Sometimes your dog might have to adjust to a new home or baby and need something for a short period just to take the edge off. If your pet gets really frightened around fireworks (New Year’s) or a vet visit, then PetCalm can be taken to aid your dog’s nerves during that time.

  2. Healthy treats - If your dog can remember that when you return from being out they are rewarded with a healthy treat like Hunter Soft Dog Training Bites or Hunter Soft Dental Dog Snack then it might actually (after sometime) make them think that when mommy and daddy go out I get treated so yay for being left alone for a few hours…..It is worth a try.

  3. Safe Toys - A Hunter Dumbbell with Bell Toy or Squeaky Jumbo Rooster Toy might do the trick in keeping your dog occupied so that you can save those few plants you have left in your garden after a drought.

  4. Exercise - It might be a good idea to take your dog for a run before going out. This way your dog will be tired and might use the time alone to rest instead of looking for other forms of destruction. The Bungee Running Leash is excellent for runners who exercise with their dogs.

  5. NurtureCalm Canine Calming Collar – This clever collar contains sustained release pheromones which are released and have a calming effect on your dog. This calming collar contains natural pheromones similar to those released by the mother to trigger a feeling of safety and well-being in her puppies. These are still effective later in life! Wearing this collar therefore calms anxiety and aggression.  It is also very helpful for dogs that have to travel, visit the vet or endure a stay in hospital or kennels. The calming collar is also wonderful to help a rescue dog to transition to a new home! The effects of this collar last up to 30 days. This is usually enough to break the cycle that underlies the anxiety or aggression.

  6. Security blanket - A special blanket that carries your scent might also make your dog feel more secure and safe when you are not physically around. You can even use an old T-shirt, unwashed if possible.

Signs of stress and anxiety to look out for separation anxiety:

  • Diarrhea, constipation and general digestive issues - Dogs that are stressed could display signs of the above. If you have noticed these signs and have ruled out all serious health issues then we recommend that you try Digestive Support or Vondis Spirulina Sprinkles which will aid healthy digestion.
  • Decrease in appetite - Just like us, dogs that are unhappy or stressed might go off their food. In order to ensure that your dog gets the required vitamins and minerals we suggest adding Vondi’s Nutritional Food Supplement to their food. We also encourage a raw food diet. Doggobone is an active raw food that be bought freshly frozen from our physical store Unit 6, Westlake Lifestyle Centre, Westlake, Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Increase in sleeping pattern - Humans reach up to 25% of their sleep in REM (deep sleep stage) while dogs only use 10%. Dogs require up to 14 hours of sleep a day to achieve the required REM for optimum health and vitality. The more active a dog is, the less sleep they require. If your dog is constantly barking, biting or digging when you are not around this means that they are not getting adequate rest and will appear to be very sleepy on your return home.  
  • Aggression to people and pets - Stressed and anxious dogs will appear to be snappy at other family pets and grumpy towards people. You can treat your dog’s aggression naturally with Feelgood Pets Aggression Formula.
  • Stressed dogs also tend to isolate themselves away from the rest of the pet and family members.

If you have tried everything, but your furry friend still struggles to cope, it may be a good idea to consut an animal behaviourist for help. Your vet should be able to recommend one in your area. You should also stop and think about whether you have time for a dog or whether the dog you have chosen is a good match for you. For example, people who are seldom home and do not exercise much are not well matched with large, active dogs like German Shepherds or Border Collies.

Just like we had to teach our children ways to cope with separation anxiety on their first day of school, we also have to learn to teach our pets ways to cope by themselves. Each pet is uniquely different so it is best to try out a few ways until you find the way that works best for you and your dog.



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