For the love of you pet: Prepare your dog; avoid separation anxiety
By John Beck
Aug. 29, 2013 at 3:29 a.m.
My family got a puppy this summer, and we have had a lot of fun with him. We are all headed back to school and work (I'm a school teacher), and I am really worried about my home getting shredded to pieces while the kids and I are gone during the day. Any advice?
Congratulations on the new puppy. He will have some changes to get used to with everyone suddenly disappearing for eight hours a day after having you all around all the time. The earlier you start preparing him for this change, the better. Just like us, a gradual change is the easiest to acclimate to.
What have you been doing in the past few months when you leave him home alone? Crate training or 'safe room' training is usually your best bet. A crate or small room of the house that is for the most part solely his, is an awesome way to keep your puppy calm while absent. This area provides a safe haven for your puppy.
It should include his bedding and food and water bowls. I suggest feeding him in this area and always putting him there when you leave. When you are home, leave the door open so he can freely come and go into this area. He will soon learn that this is his 'room' in your house and a safe place for him to rest, play, eat, etc. at any time and especially when you are not at home.
To help prevent separation anxiety, you should vary the way you leave the house and the length of time you are gone. Pay attention to your normal routine. You have probably never noticed that every time you are planning to leave the house that you go to the bathroom, then fix your hair, then grab your purse, then turn off the lights, then grab your keys, then exit through the garage door.
Your dog notices! This repetitive pattern causes wind-up and can make your dog very anxious. They know you are fixing to leave and they get nervous about being left alone. You can't tell them you will be back in 20 minutes or four hours or whenever. They don't know if or when you will ever come back.
Try and switch up your leaving routine. Maybe exit through a different door or put your purse and keys in the car then come back in and perform a small task before actually leaving the house. Also, varying the time you are gone is helpful.
Try leaving for short amounts of time and gradually increasing the time over a week or so. The first time you leave, just walk around the block, then drive around the block a few times, then go to the corner store or grocery store, slowly increasing the amount of time you are gone will stretch your dog's tolerance and then make the lengths sporadic will build confidence that you will always come back.
Hopefully, this will give you a sense of direction. Also, don't forget to load up on the toys and treats to help make the transition easier and remember there is no need to give your puppy a pep talk before your departure. He knows he is a good dog, you don't have to remind him.
Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.