Rooster was an amazing and wonderful dog but one of the more difficult things about him was his separation anxiety. For the first few years, we couldn’t even go to the mailbox without him wanting to come with! One of the first times my parents left him alone for a couple hours, he destroyed part of our front door trying to get out of the house. Over the years, we had to get creative with taking care of him and luckily, he did get a lot better. That and he got older so he was still pretty anxious but couldn’t destroy any more doors!
Dealing with his separation anxiety was a big part of caring for him but Rooster isn’t the only dog to deal with this kind of anxiety. Helping a dog through their anxiety will take time and a whole lot of patience, as this isn’t an issue that can be rushed or fixed overnight.
Important: don’t try crate training until the dog’s anxiety is less intense, as crating them during the beginning could only make the anxiety worse (and could result in them associating the crate with bad things).
There are ways to help your dog deal with separation anxiety. One is systematic desensitization, which is the dog gradually getting used to being left home alone. Doing this involves slowly getting your dog used to being alone for longer periods of time and will involve a lot of patience on your part. Spend at least 30 minutes on each training session, which will involve leaving the house and returning in different time intervals.
- Start with stepping out the door for a short time and step right back inside. It might be good to start with stepping outside for a few seconds and back inside. Keep things calm and quiet. Don’t make a big deal out of going out or returning. Once everything is relaxed, do this again until the dog is not showing any signs of anxiety.
- Slowly increase the amount of time you’re out of sight (and make the amount of time you’re out different). This means stepping out for 3 minutes, coming back in, going out for 6 minutes, coming back in, and then out for 1 minute (as an example).
- Once you’ve worked up to 45 minutes of the dog being alone in the house, you should be able to add more time at a quicker pace.
In dogs, separation anxiety and boredom can often manifest in similar ways. Dogs were bred to work and live alongside humans so spending several hours alone and with nothing to do can make any dog bored and potentially anxious. Many anxiety symptoms are also signs of boredom: chewing/destroying everything, barking, digging holes, trying to escape, and so much more.
With any dog, you’ll have to work on training, exercise, and enrichment. Training can strengthen the bond between you and your dog in any situation and allows for dogs to learn the rules of the house. Exercise and enrichment can also beat a dog’s boredom and can relieve their anxiety.
‘A tired dog is a calm dog.’
Exercise is a great way to help a dog deal with boredom and anxiety. Dogs were, as mentioned, bred to live and work alongside humans so many still have lots of energy and like having a job to do. Exercise, like going for walks, fetching, and agility, is great for a dog’s body and mind!
- 8 reasons why exercise is essential for a healthy and happy dog from Wide Open Pets
Different dogs will need different kinds of exercise, as their size and breed help determine how much energy they might have. For example, dalmatians and pointers both have very high energy levels while breeds in the toy group tend to have low energy levels. English bulldogs, Basset hounds, and chow chows are just some of the more low energy dog breeds out there while border collies, Australian shepherds, and jack russell terriers are great breeds for any sort of agility training.
While different breeds will need different amounts of exercise, all dogs will need daily walks and other forms of exercise. Walks, hikes, swimming, games, and more help your dog to keep happy and healthy in so many ways!
Toys and puzzles
Like humans, dogs can get bored from just sitting around all day. Having toys, especially puzzle toys, can help keep their minds engaged in something other than destroying your house. Kongs are a popular toy, as you can stuff a variety of treats and food into them and it takes some time and thought for your pet to get it out.
- Get Stuffed! Over 50 Ways to Fill Your Kong by John Lieu, Bark Think
There are other toys that involve hiding treats and letting your dog figure out how to get them out. Rover.com has a list of some of the best puzzle toys for any bored dog! And if you’re looking for more ideas on how to deal with boredom in your dog, the blog Barkercise has plenty of resources.
There are a lot of reasons why your dog might be destroying your house when left alone. Dogs are pack animals and like to be with their packs. And for most dogs, their packs are their people! So being anxious when left alone makes sense in that regard. Additionally, some dogs might destroy things because they’re bored. The good news is that separation anxiety and boredom are both things you can work on and work through with your dog. Exercising, training, and enrichment are all great ways to help your dog feel less anxious, less bored, and more confident.