As things open back up in our post-Covid-shut-down world, many of us will find ourselves leaving our dogs home alone more than we have in the past year. How does your dog do staying home alone? If you have been home with your dog for the past year, will they have separation anxiety now? It is possible, but certainly not a given. You may, however, need to take steps to help your dog learn to be home alone. First, let’s take a look at common home alone challenges that do not indicate separation anxiety, then at what separation anxiety is, and lastly I’ll dive in to how to help your pups navigate the new normal.
Common home alone challenges that are not separation anxiety (though they can look very similar!)
- A puppy getting bored (and possibly barking or getting into mischief) after being home for alone for longer than they are accustomed to.
- A dog barking at a squirrel out the window or at people walking by the house.
- A teething puppy or adolescent dog chewing your table leg.
- A dog that has simply not learned how to be home alone does not necessarily have SA.
So then what is separation anxiety?
- Separation anxiety (SA) is a panic disorder.
- Recent research suggests that there is a strong genetic component involved in SA.
- The hallmarks of SA are distressed vocalizing, trying to escape, and urination or defecation (not related to housetraining issues).
- It is not created by being home with your dog too much.
- It is not created by letting your dog sleep with you or otherwise pampering your pup.
- It is not because you have done something wrong. Many dogs stay home alone fine even if their person works from home, sleeps with them, and gives them tons of attention.
- If you think your dog has SA, you will want to learn more and talk with a qualified professional to get help. (I recommend you check out https://malenademartini.com/)
How can you set your dog up for success?
For garden variety home alone challenges, you will need to make sure your pup’s needs for activity, exercise, attention are well met. Then you can gradually acclimate your dog to being alone—take tiny steps to help them get used to it. This means not leaving them for longer than they are comfortable. For some dogs this may mean 5 minutes or less. For others it may mean 15 minutes or an hour. But please don’t suddenly leave them for 8 hours if they have never been left alone. Take some time to assess what your individual dog will need to be successful. This will vary depending on experience and genetic make-up.
What will your dog need? Ask yourself these questions. Will my dog need
- To get used to a new routine or schedule for eating, sleeping, exercising, and attention?
- To get used to being confined if you plan to keep them in a certain part of the house for safety?
- To get used to hol
ding their urine? If they have had free access, they may not have this physical skill.
- More exercise or enrichment activities when you are home?
- To get used to you walking out the door—and knowing you will come back?
- To get used to a dog walker or pet sitter coming into the house when you aren’t there?
Since developing a training plan is more than I can do in a blog post, I’ll leave you with this: You can get help to help your dog be successful. If your puppy or dog simply needs to learn to be left alone, consult with a trainer who has worked with home alone issues. (You can find a list of great trainers in our area here: https://www.gooddogsantacruz.com/other-dog-pros/) But if you think your pup has separation anxiety, please reach out to an expert (I recommend you start here: https://malenademartini.com/) Separation issues can generally be solved and you and your pup will be happy you put in the effort!