Slowly, as the country starts to re-open, we will be going back to work. Our dogs have adored having us home for weeks now, so it will be a big adjustment for them as well. With such an overload of quality time with their families, dogs are building up a huge reservoir of over-dependency. If your hound has been a Velcro Dog while you have been home, they may experience the distress of separation anxiety. Here are some ways you can calm an anxious dog who hates to be alone.
True separation anxiety (SA) can become a major problem, and we don’t want that to happen. Some “home alone” anxiety red flags can include a range of erratic behaviors when you are not there, including defecating, urinating, pacing, whining, barking, howling, chewing or trying to escape. If we acclimate our dogs to being alone again, we should be able to help them become used to the situation.
Before you resume being gone for eight hours or more a day, take a little time to acclimate your Greyhound to being alone again. If you can, leave for a little bit each day, even to get the mail or newspaper. If you work from home, shut the door to the room for an hour or two. Do not make a big deal of going or coming home. Gradually lengthen the time you are away. It’s a gradual process of using small absences that condition him to be alone. He is safe and you always come back. If he gets excited and jumps all over you when you return, ignore him. Turn your back and walk away. When he finally settles down, say hello and greet him very calmly.
An interactive food toy that can keep your dog entertained while you are gone may work for you (like a Kong). Fill the Kong with goodies- dog cookies or training treats and seal with peanut butter, cream cheese, or plain yogurt. Give your dog the Kong every time you leave him alone and pick it up again as soon as you get home. You can even freeze the Kong so that it lasts longer. If your dog is not food-motivated, you could try this with a special toy they only get when you are gone. How about that annoying Screaming Monkey?
If your departure routine is a trigger for your dog to get over-anxious, desensitize him/her to your movements. Get up even when you are not leaving. Pick up your car keys and put them in your pocket at random times throughout the day. Dress in your business clothes and then cook dinner. Shower at night instead of the morning, or vice versa. Put your briefcase in the car while you’re still in pajamas. Make the morning as unpredictable as possible.
If you crate your dog, do not crate only when you leave them alone. To get them reacquainted with the crate, try crating them while you are in the room watching television, cleaning, or doing whatever. Give treats or toys in the crate. Make the crate a positive place to be.
Let’s say you’ve conditioned your Greyhound to accept being alone, but they still are unduly distressed when you are gone. There are some more things you can try to help them manage their anxiety during your absence.
Exercise your dog well before you leave. A tired dog has less energy with which to be anxious and destructive. End exercise sessions 20 to 30 minutes before you go, so he has time to settle down
Try Adaptil (formerly called DAP), dog-appeasing pheromones. DAP is a synthetic chemical based on a hormone that’s produced by lactating female dogs. It’s this hormone that helps keep puppies calm, and can help calm your anxious dog. DAP products are available in plug-in diffusers and room sprays for their environment, plus infused collars and topical sprays. All are odorless to humans and other pets. Available at pet stores and online.
Calming music left on while you are gone may help soothe your hound. I heard once of a dog that liked reggae, but usually classical has a relaxing effect on dogs. Dog-specific music CDs by Through a Dog’s Ear are available here http://bit.ly/MusictoCalmYourDog. Leaving a light on if you are gone at night may help too. How about a streaming channel for dogs who are home alone? DOGTV was created for just that purpose (subscription). See DogTV.com for a free trial.
Rescue Remedy or Calms Forte are homeopathic remedies for anxiety, sold for people but safe for pets as well. Calms Forte was the #1 go-to for our Greyhound with thunder phobia. Available at health food stores, larger grocery stores, or online.
A strategically located video camera or sound-activated recorder can help identify possible outside stimuli, such as visitors to the home or unusual noises that might trigger what otherwise may appear to be separation-related behaviors. A Furbo will let you observe your dog – and shoot out treats whenever necessary.
If none of these strategies seem to be helping, talk to your veterinarian. Sometimes what appears to be SA could actually be something else entirely. If physical problems are ruled out, do not be afraid to ask your vet about anti-anxiety medication. Clomicalm is one and there are several others. It typically takes a month or two to see an improvement.
If you would like to know more about SA, with training tips and additional suggestions, check out “Don’t Leave Me” by Nicole Wilde. It’s a step-by-step guide to treating separation anxiety. Find it here https://bit.ly/dontLeaveMe. Another greyt resource is Patricia McConnell’s wonderful booklet on SA titled “I’ll Be Home Soon,” available here https://bit.ly/beHomeSoon.
Remember that your Greyhound is not choosing to misbehave out of spite or malice – he is distressed by separation from his people. It’s not fun for him, either; he lives in the moment, and the moments that you are gone are very long indeed.