Does your dog freak out when you leave? Leaving your dog or puppy behind while you take a holiday is never easy, but for many dogs, separation from their families can cause severe anxiety and real problems.
There are numerous reasons why a dog may struggle when left by their owner. If you have not prepared your dog for their stay then in any situation your dog could become extremely destructive, fearful of other people and/or show signs of fear related aggression. We look at what triggers separation anxiety in dogs, signs that they aren't coping, and how to minimise separation axiety.
What triggers separation anxiety?
- Being left alone for the first time.
- Being left alone when accustomed to constant human contact.
- Suffering a traumatic event, such as time at a shelter or boarding kennel, or abuse.
- Change in the family's routine or structure, or the loss of a family member or other pet.
Signs that your dog does not cope when left
By understanding the type of behaviour your dog displays when you leave allows you to communicate the signs and symptoms to your chosen Pet Sitting Professional
- Distress through barking, howling or whining
- Defecating and/or urinating inappropriately
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Hyper salivation
- Under of over-eating
- Fence jumping, squeezing through, or pushing over
- Destruction through scratching at doors or windowsills, chewing on doorframes
Just because your dog doesn't usually jump fences, doesnt mean they won't try when you are away. Dogs that are of a medium size tend to have the muscle power combined with the rush of adrenalin and cortezone (stress) they are feeling through their body, and sometimes a solid 6ft fence won't stop them. If a dog wants to get out - they will try anything.
The signs and to what degree they show these symptoms are important elements that need to be communicated to your pet care provider. If your dog shows signs of any extreme or excessive behaviour noted above, it is important that your first consult with your vet a few months in advance of your planned trip so that you can minimise the anxiety leading up to the event.
Practical steps and preparation to minimise separation anxiety
Before making your final decision about whom to leave your dog with, we recommend you have a read of our “10 important questions to ask before boarding your pet” or “How to find a great pet sitter” so that you can be prepared to ask questions on your first introduction or tour of the property.
Desensitise them to leaving cues
Such as keys being picked up, your shoes being put on, perfume being sprayed – these are all cues that suggest you are about to leave the house. Perhaps pick up the keys and then don’t leave the house. Or, sometimes leave the house, but silently pick up the keys without saying goodbye.
Distract them with their favourite treat – leaving time means pleasure, not pain. Some pet owners sprinkle grated cheese all over their floor to distract their dog and it works well. Find out what will work well with their dog.
Practice leaving your dog in short bursts, gradually increasing their time alone are just some of the methods suggested.
Find a Sitter who is also a Dog Trainer, Dog Behaviourist, Vet Nurse, or Vet.
Look for Pet Sitters who are a Dog Trainer, Dog Behaviourist, Vet Nurse, or Vet. They will understand how to deal with anxiety a little more than someone with less experience. Start by signing up, and creating a Profile for Yourself; and one for your Pet, then Post a Job and available Sitters in your area will apply.
Trial short periods of time away
When you feel that you are happy with your final decision ask you pet professional about a trial period such as doggy day care and whether they are capable to manage dogs with separation anxiety that display the type of symptoms your dog shows.
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have a Meet & Greet with a Sitter beforehand
You need to ask the prospective Sitter to give you a demo on walking your dog to see if they have the strength handle them both under calm situations, and if something like a cat catches the dog's eye and excites them to want to chase it. You need to know whether the Sitter can hang onto that lead and NOT loose control. The Sitter's yard should have high fences but also enough space for the dog to play with enrichment toys.
Both Pet Owners and Sitters need to both work through the RSPCA Property Check & Meet & Greet Guide together.
Build a relationship
Build a relationship with a pet professional where they get to know your dog well too. It will make your future holidays away and leaving them so much easier as they will familiar with the person and the environment.
Exercise has mental as well as physical benefits for dogs. It increases serotonin with increases relaxation. Make sure you book a Sitter who also offers regular dog daily walks as your dog may need to be walked twice a day.
Work on basic obedience commands by practicing 'sit', 'stay' and 'down' for 10 minutes or so, twice a day or more. The 'sit-stay' and 'down-stay' commands will play a useful role in dog training for separation anxiety as they can be used to encourage your pup to tolerate there being a distance between you and them.
Obedience work also strengthens your 'alpha' (or leadership) position in your pups' eyes, and they will be generally more relaxed knowing that you are in charge. Joining a formal basic training class at a local dog obedience school is another great way to build your dog’s confidence and add to their socialisation experiences. Some trainers are even willing to come to your house and work with you on specific scenarios.
Thunder Shirts works by applying a gentle, calming pressure around your dog’s torso. It’s like a “hug” and relaxes most dogs.
Pheromone Collars & Diffusers
These items mimic the pheromone that the mother dog produces to calm and reassure her puppies. Dogs recognize these Pheromones throughout life. It mimics the natural way to help dogs cope with new and fearful situations. The Lavender and Chamomile provide a soothing fragrance. There are a range of collars and sprays available from Pet Stores and some Vets stock plug in diffusers.
Buy and pack some Nutritional Suppliments in your dog's tote bag
At the Meet and Greet with the Sitter you would have mentioned about your dog's history of anxiety, so when it comes time to you dog going and staying with a Sitter, you may wish to buy and pack these supplements in your pup's tote bag before they go and stay with a Sitter.
Zylkene (made by Vetoquinol) is a capsule taken orally by pets and is an all-natural, non-sedating, drug-free nutritional supplement that can help to decrease anxiety in both dogs and cats. The active ingredient in Zylkene is alpha-casozepine which is derived from a protein in milk called casein. You are able to pick up Zylkene from any Vet.
Complete Calm (made by Blackmores) are kangaroo based chews that contains Tryptophan, B group vitamins and a blend of multivitamins and nutrients to support the general health and nervous function in dogs. You are able to pick up Complete Calm from any Greencross Vet.
Anxiety Aid make by Rufus & Coco is a dietary supplement for dogs and cats that aids in relieving anxiety which you can add to your pet's food. Anxiety Aid is a professionally formulated palatable powder to help relieve anxiety in cats and dogs. It contains Tryptophan, an essential amino acid which converts to serotonin once consumed; along with other B group vitamins and minerals.
Medication under Vet Advice
In extreme cases when other non-medicinal methods have been exhausted, you may find that drug therapy may be your only solution. As this solution comes from your vets expert guidance, you should try not to feel guilty about using them, knowing that your vet always has your pet’s best interests at heart.
Vets may prescribe drugs, which tend to calm a dog’s senses a little, but they are not a cure. Drugs only provide a support mechanism to assist the owner in rehabilitating the dog, it is only a temporary fix for the underlying problem. You have to treat the root cause.
Kongs - Dogs that don't like being left alone can be given a Kong as a distraction, containing cheese or 100% peanut butter and so they can be used as a tool for mild separation anxiety as the licking action also increases serotonin from the brain.
Image by motherboard.vice.com
Snuffle Matts - Snuffle mats are an enrichment feeding mat, that is fantastic for brain stimulation, slowing down fast eaters and keeping them entertained.
Photo by @misskoko__
Lamb or beef raw bones are good for dog oral health as they help to scrape off plaque and again the chewing action will be a pleasurable distraction for them.
Image via Vet babble
Skip the long goodbyes or big greetings upon return
Your dog is very in touch with your emotions so long drawn out goodbyes will lengthen the time that they settles in for his holiday away from you.
Pack a familiar smelling small blanket and toys if they go to stay with a Pet Sitter
Pack a blanket, or an old jumper that holds your scent as well as the ‘smell of home’.
Suitable boarding options
Book a Sitter who offers “24/7 Care” this person will be home all the time. On average, other types of Sitters will be in and out of their home.
Company with other dogs
Try booking your dog with a similar sized or similar breed of dog, does it make them better or worse? Also, trust your ‘gut’ feeling you get when you visit your prospective pet carer.
When is a Pet Sitting service in someone's home not appropriate?
If you have a strong dog that exhibits signs of destruction, aggression, digging, and the need to ‘escape’, then a normal typical pet sitting service where they are left at home for short periods would not be your best option.
If they are prone to fence jumping and have the muscle power to back it up then they will try to escape if they can.
Professional grade strong fences of a kennel will be required. Kennels have to meet national codes of practice which includes strong fences.
We hope these tips have been useful.