One of the most important things that a dog needs to learn is to be able to stay at home for a few hours without having separation anxiety and wrecking chaos in the house.
If you’re not familiar with the term, separation anxiety happens when your dog gets anxious after being left alone. The anxiety can result in a wide variety of misbehaviours, such as whining, barking, howling, and destroying objects around the house.
Please note that even if you follow the rules below, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll dog will never feel stressed, anxious, or bored while you’re away. However, they are a first step to avoid this.
Tire your dog out before leaving
Manel and I do that 99.9% of the time, as a tired dog will be more likely to sleep and be calm.
Whenever we’re leaving for more than a few minutes, we take Nix out for a walk, so that she can relieve herself, and then we play with her to tire her out. Although it’s not always possible, I always try to be out for at least 30 minutes and play fetch with her for as long as I can.
Ignore the dog, before leaving and after arriving home
This one is key to avoid separation anxiety. If you keep petting your dog while you’re saying goodbye you are likely to frustrate him when you leave, as you’re creating a kind of expectation of attention for him. Similary, if you make a big fuss when you come back, your dog will get very excited and will associate your arrival with tons of fun and attention. Then, he will unconsciously more eager for your arrival when he is waiting for you, which is more likely to end up in separation anxiety.
We try to ignore Nix both when we leave and when we arrive, but the latter is incredibly difficult, because we’re also very happy to see her. What I personally do is that I ignore her while she shows too much excitement (e.g. excessive tail-wagging, whining, pacing up and down) and usually ask her to sit down. When she does, she has normally calmed herself down, and then I pet and talk to her.
Make sure the dog’s basic needs are covered while you’re away
That means leaving a bowl of fresh water and taking the dog’s eating schedule into consideration.
Let me explain the latter using an example. Early on, Nix ate three times (breakfast, lunch and dinner) per day. However, due to work, some days I had to be away during her lunch time. Since I also had to leave earlier, what I did was split her lunch into two: I’d give her some of her lunch before leaving and the rest when I came back. It worked for her and it worked for me, although I was really glad when we changed to two daily meals.
If you have a garden, think it can also be interesting to let the dog access to it if possible, in case he needs to relieve himself.
Leave toys and/or chew bones in areas in which the dog may misbehave
The idea is that he’ll go for the toy or the bone instead of the furniture or the wall.
We always leave Nix plenty of toys around and a chew bone. Always.