Separation Anxiety can be very frustrating for new owners of rescue dogs since a dog with SA will often whine, dig, bark, excessively salivate, cause destruction (like scratching at doors, chewing through crates), and/ or pee and poop in the house when the owner isn’t home.
The first thing to remember is that your dog is not doing this because he is mad at you, or to be a “bad dog”. As a result, punishment and anger will not work. Your dog is acting out because he is panicked that when you leave, you may not come back. After all, he is a rescue dog, so at some point in his life someone DID leave and not come back.
There are several things you can do to help your pup feel secure:
Calm Exits/Entrances! It is best to ignore your pup or say a simple goodbye and hello when you come and go. If you make emotional filled exits and entrances, telling your dog over and over that everything is going to be okay or get really excited with them when you get home, then your dog is going to be convinced that leaving him is a big deal because you always get so emotional!
Come and Go and Come and Go! The more you come home and leave the faster your dog is going to learn that you aren’t abandoning him. Pick up your keys, put on your jacket, walk out the door, then turn around and walk back in. Do it again and again. Your goal is to be able to leave and come back before your dog gets upset. For some dogs that may mean you leave only for a few seconds. For other dogs, you may be able to walk out the door for several minutes. As your dog gets more comfortable, increase the time that you leave.
Break the Pattern! Some dogs start to get nervous before you even leave. They learn to recognize “work clothes” or when you are getting ready to go out for the evening. If you can break this association, it will help your dog be more relaxed when you actually leave. Put your shoes on, pick up your keys, and then sit down on the couch. Get dressed and then take out the trash. Do your hair and then watch a movie.
Tired Pups are Happy Pups! If your dog is properly exercised, he will be happy and balanced which will help to reduce his anxiety. Make sure your dog always gets exercise before you are going to be gone for long periods of time. If you don’t have enough time to take your dog on a long walk or run before work in the morning, then you can outfit him with a dog backpack with a little weight (soup cans or water bottles work great). This way your dog will work extra hard and get tired faster.
Make puppy alone time fun! Find your dog’s most favorite food item/bone. It must be their “doggy caviar” and something that will take them awhile to eat. A Kong stuffed with peanut butter and then frozen works well. As do knuckle bones. Your dog is only going to get this item when you are gone. This way, your leaving is a good thing because he gets an amazing treat.
Get Some Help! There are also several products on the market that could help to reduce your dog’s separation anxiety. The DAP collar, DAP Diffuser, Rescue Remedy, and Thunder Shirt can all help. All dogs are affected differently with these products. Try them one at a time to see what works for your individual pup. For severe separation anxiety that is not getting better with traditional training, there are also prescription drugs like Reconcile that are available from your vet.