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How to teach your dog that being alone is nothing to worry about

As one in four (25%) Brits admit their dog’s separation anxiety makes them anxious to leave their pup home alone, we share some top tips on how to enjoy spending time apart from your furry friend.

New research has highlighted how anxiety also affects the day-to-day lives of pet owners – with almost half (48%) admitting that socialising and special events often see them separated from their pets.

The effects of separation anxiety on animals is well documented, and our new study reports that 85% of people feel they are confident in identifying the signs that their dog feels anxious when being apart from their ‘pawrent’.

In fact, four in five (82%) pet owners correctly identified barking and howling as a sign, closely followed by chewing and destructive behaviour (78%) and pacing (69%). Though, one in ten (9%) thought there were no signs at all.

The full list of symptoms include

  • Vocalisation
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Salivating
  • Scratching at doors
  • Destruction or chewing
  • Loss of toilet training
  • Inability to eat when alone 
  • Aggression

Carolyn Menteith, Trainer and Behaviourist, says: “It is important that we think about how our pets are coping on their own, and look for any signs that they are unhappy. Whether you have a young pet you’re preparing to leave for the first time, or an older one who needs some help to feel comfortable by themself, always seek the advice of a qualified pet behaviourist.

“Helping pets to feel relaxed when we’re not with them can take time and effort, so following the right advice as early as you can, can make things much easier for you both. To help get started, here are some of my top tips:

  • Take baby steps

At dinner time leave the room or use a stairgate to prevent your pet from following you. They will be too interested in dinner to be worried where you’ve gone - but be aware that a puppy will need to go out to the toilet almost immediately after they’ve eaten. This teaches your dog that good things can happen while you are not there.

  • Try scatter-feeding

If you have a secure garden, take your dog’s kibble and drop it in the grass for them to hunt out. Once they understand this new feeding game, you can scatter it a bit wider - and leave them for a few minutes while they hunt. This way, they’re learning that good things can and do happen when you are not there - and they are also using their scavenging, foraging and scenting instincts.

  • Don’t let your dog follow you everywhere

While we often like that our dogs follow us wherever we go, it isn’t good for them to think that they will always have constant access to us. Use equipment such as stairgates in doorways; these are cheap, easy to fit and let your dog see where you are going, so they don’t feel abandoned. You can also give your dog a treat while you’re gone. The aim is that they look forward to your absences, not worry about them.

  • Build up the time

Once you know your dog is happy being left for a few minutes, you can very slowly build up the length of time you leave them. You are teaching them that being alone is safe and it’s nothing to worry about.

  • Enlist the help of a pet webcam

If you are at all worried that your dog might not be happy when you leave, use a webcam to find out what they are doing when you are not there, and if they show any signs of separation-related behaviours, consult an accredited behaviour professional with experience in separation anxieties for help.”

Vicki Wentworth, Managing Director, Agria Pet Insurance, says, “The world has changed so much that many of our pets are simply not used to being left alone for short periods of time. Anything we can do as owners to make this experience stress-free, for us and for them, can make an enormous difference. It can be life-changing for a dog that has learned to be confident and relaxed in their own company.”

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