It’s date night, and you’re getting ready to go. As you put on a dress shirt, your dog Buster starts to whine. When you put on your best shoes, he tries hiding under the couch. As you close and lock the front door, you can hear him barking and howling. You feel terrible because he clearly hates it when you’re gone, but what are you supposed to do—stay home forever?
When you come home relaxed after a great meal, you find a hole chewed in the couch, urine on the carpet, and poop in your second best shoes. Buster clearly had a bad night, and now so did you.
Plenty of pet parents visit LazyPaw Animal Hospitals wondering why their otherwise fantastic dog or cat tries to rip their home apart whenever they leave the house, but Buster’s behavior doesn’t mean he hates you or isn’t potty trained. He’s probably feeling separation anxiety, which causes many pets to become disruptive or destructive when left alone. Some pets will experience so much distress that they’ll do anything to release their upset energy, destroying furniture and more in the house. Sometimes the panicked behavior leads to an escape attempt, which can turn into accidental self-harm and even death.
Pets may develop anxiety when there is a change in their guardian, sudden change in a regular schedule, move to a new home, or absence of a family member who has moved or passed away. The solution to separation sadness is teaching the animal to enjoy, or at the very least handle, time apart.
First, give your pet plenty of exercise right before you leave. When Buster has fun exercising with you and enjoying quality time, he will have less energy to feel anxious and he’s more likely to sleep through your time away.
Right before you leave, give Buster a fun new puzzle toy with treats to play with that will take him at least twenty minutes to figure out. You can also give him a dog toy designed to withhold treats unless he does a little work, such as a Kong® stuffed with peanut butter or a frozen recipe. Only let your pet have these special toys when you are away.
If Buster is unwilling to eat when you’re gone, you can practice leaving him alone for short periods so he gets used to the feeling and learns nothing bad will happen if you leave—and that you always come back. Do the other activities that normally mean you’re leaving, such as pick up your keys or put on your shoes, but not actually leave. This will teach Buster that the signs of you leaving don’t have to be signs to fear.
If your pet still has anxiety, talk to an experienced dog trainer, who can evaluate your individual pet and offer professional tips. You want any training to be productive, not make matters worse. Trainers should especially be consulted if your pet is a rescue that experienced abuse or abandonment in the past.
If you try these methods and still have issues, you can talk to your pet clinic about other possible causes of anxiety. For example, incontinence could stem from a medical issue such as a urinary tract infection, medication side effect, or other behavioral issue.
Don’t give up on a pet that has anxiety. Try these basic tricks and talk to the experts instead!