Note I am not a professional dog trainer or behaviourist and don’t claim to be
Returning home after leaving Rosie alone for 30 minutes to find she has messed herself has been the most hearting breaking part of our journey together and the most difficult challenge to overcome. Locking my front door and hearing her bark the house down, as I walked away, filled me with worry, stress, and heartbreak, making daily life feel like a battle. Here is what I have learnt from Rosie to manage her anxiety.
DITCH THE ROUTINE
I would put my shoes and jacket on, pick up my car keys, say goodbye to Rosie and leave the house. (This is what I call my normal ‘leaving the house routine’). Completely unaware that Rosie was picking up on my actions and learning quickly that after I had completed my routine, she was going to be left alone, giving her time to stress and worry before I had gone. Instead, by switching up my routine, Rosie couldn’t get anxious, about being left alone, as my behaviour didn’t suggest she was going to be. Changing the way I left the house required a little creativity, however simple things, like leaving my jacket in the car, unlocking the door and putting my shoes on earlier, were practical switches, that even with a busy lifestyle I was able to achieve. Also by randomly wearing my jacket indoors, without leaving the house, picking up my keys, unlocking the door then doing something else and going outside for different lengths of time, helped me desensitize Rosie’s association with the sound of my keys, the rustling of my jacket and the noise from opening the door with being left alone, so when I did leave, she didn’t think anything of it.
HELLO & GOODBYES
I try not do to the whole Hello and Goodbye ‘thing’ with Rosie. (This is definitely, easier said than done). Of course, every time I leave Rosie, I want to tell her, how much I love her, to be good and that I will be back soon, but the only benefit from doing this is personal. Saying Goodbye to Rosie became another ‘leaving the house routine’ that she could associate with being left alone, plus I was rewarding her anxious behaviour by giving her loads of attention before I left. Rosie is always super excited to greet me at the door when I arrive back, even though it makes me feel loved, making a big deal about my return is also making a bigger deal about me being away. It’s emotionally hard and doesn’t mean I love Rosie any less, however, she had to learn that being left alone is not a big deal!
KEEP THE MIND BUSY
Rosie takes great pride, in taking my shoes apart and getting up to mischief when she is alone, and when you think you have moved everything that she could possibly get her paws on, it’s almost certain she would have found something. What I try and do is keep her mind as busy as possible, obviously a good walk or run before I leave means she tired and happy to go for a nap but once that’s over, it’s really time to let the fun and games begin. I leave the TV on, (Rosie loves Pitbull and Parolees) this keeps any distracting noises from outside to a minimum, and I leave puzzle games and toys for her to find and keep her mind busy while I am away. (My top toys & puzzle games to follow)
Separation anxiety is an emotionally draining behaviour to overcome, torn between heartbreak of leaving your dog stressed and the practicalities of life. Make sure you keep your dog safe if they are/develop destructive behaviour through appropriate crate training, become aware of your own behaviours and don’t forget to be patient.
Please share your experiences below – Rosie and I would love to hear from you x