You come home to an overturned garbage, a chewed coffee table, dishes knocked off the counter – and a dog who runs to greet you at the door. What happened while you were gone? You wonder, does my dog have separation anxiety?
This is one of the most common questions I get from owners. They will come home to destruction, or hear their dog barking, and wondering if their dog is panicking. This is not always true. Two scenarios could be at play here, a dog experiencing separation anxiety or a dog who is bored.
What’s the difference between Separation Anxiety and a bored dog?
Separation Anxiety will occur when a dog experiences panic while left alone. It is characterized by vocalization, peeing/pooing, pacing, panting, destruction (especially at points of human entry/exit). It can be associated with a single person (the dog panics every time that person leaves) or only when no one is home (the dog can be left with a human ‘sitter’ with no symptoms).
Boredom occurs when a dog is under-enriched. Maybe they are not receiving enough exercise, they are not using their brain enough, they have too much freedom in the house and therefore they choose their enrichment by exploring the garbage can, the laundry hamper, the kitchen counter….
How do you know for sure?
The best way to know what your dog is doing while being left alone is to videotape them. You can either setup a Go Pro type recorder, or angle your laptop so the webcam captures the main area they are left in and review the recording upon your return.
If your dog begins whining/howling/pacing as soon as you leave the house and the behaviour escalates over the course of the recording, you could have a dog with separation anxiety.
Instead, if your recording captured a calm dog exploring the garbage can with a wagging tail, you probably have a bored Fido.
Separation Anxiety will require the assistance of a certified dog trainer to help you get your dog more comfortable and confident with being left alone. You can begin by reading the book “I’ll Be Home Soon” by Dr Patricia McConnell for more information on the issue. There’s also Malena DeMartini-Price’s book “Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs” for an in depth look at the issue.
Boredom can be helped by looking at your dog’s daily routine and seeing where they can get more enrichment. Here are some quick ways to enrich your dog’s days:
- Change up your walking routine – go to a new park or new neighbourhood for them to sniff and explore. It doesn’t have to be fancy or far away, anywhere new is a new adventure for your dog!
- Feed your dog from a food dispensing toy – it allows your dog to use their brain and get a food reward for it.
- Structure times for training – pick a new trick to teach your dog and spend a few minutes every day working on it. You don’t need to dedicate huge sections of time to training, keep it short & sweet so it’s enjoyable for both of you. Kikopup has some great video tutorials for lots of tricks.
- Interactive play – don’t forget that dogs like to play with YOU. Games like fetch or tug (if your space is limited) can go a long way in tiring a dog out and having fun together at the same time.