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PetPourri: Please Don’t Go…Soothing Your Pet’s Separation Anxiety

By Ashlee Verba

The end of summer marks a return to “normal” life when families now must stretch their time between school, work and social schedules. Daily routines become a mad dash to make sure everyone is fed, bathed and in bed at a reasonable hour. For your pet, however, this usually translates into seeing less of you and your family, which can often lead to separation anxiety. For some pets (and owners) this can be a troubling scenario, but when you know what signs to watch for and what you can do to help fix the problem, you’ll find it’s easy to keep your pet relaxed and relieved while you’re otherwise occupied.


Watch for Signs

According to the ASPCA, a change in the normal schedule or routine can trigger separation anxiety in pets that are used to having the company and companionship of their owners on a consistent basis. Animals that are stressed and feeling separation anxiety may act out through destroying things in the house. Other pets may show their displeasure by going to the bathroom inside or through pacing, digging, barking or howling. If the distress occurs when they know you are getting ready to leave, this could be a good indication of separation anxiety. However, it’s important to know that some of these symptoms may have other explanations such as incontinence, submissive urination or diabetes, so consult with a veterinarian first to rule out any other possible reasoning.

Finding Your Solution

Once you’ve ruled out medical problems, it’s important for you to take the proper steps as a responsible pet owner to find some relief for both of you. Most animals learn through association, and you can begin the process by learning to recognize your own signals.


Pets are creatures of habit; as such, they are often quick to pick up on our own routines. Whether it’s putting on your shoes or picking up your keys, a sensitive pet will learn to know when you are leaving and start to become anxious right away. Learning to lessen the impact of your departure and arrival can help through good suggestions such as the “twenty minute rule” which says to withhold from interacting with your pet twenty minutes before you leave and twenty minutes after you come home. It can be difficult because we love them so much, but by not engulfing your pet in hugs and kisses on every departure and arrival, we can help signal to them that being home alone is not a big deal.

The next step is teaching them to ignore your departure cues. As anything with pets goes, this is a gradual process. Start by picking up your keys, jingling them and setting them back down. After a week of “false alarms,” your keys will no longer be an indication of you leaving. Next, grab your keys and put on your coat every couple of days for no reason until they stop associating your coat with departing. After that, grab your keys, put on your coat and open the door. From there, step outside for a couple of minutes. As your pet progresses, change variables and time intervals. Practice as a family so your pooch doesn’t focus on other people’s signals such as kids grabbing backpacks or lunch bags.

Positive Reinforcement

If your pet still seems anxious when you shake up your departure routine, the solution may be giving them something to keep them occupied while you’re gone. Try giving them a treat on your way out the door and make sure there are plenty of bones or toys around for them to pass time with. Interactive feeders help stimulate your pet mentally and keep them busy while they figure out simple puzzles. Pets can get their reward through pawing, nibbling, shaking or rolling the toy around – but be sure to make the reward fairly easy to obtain or your animals will become frustrated or disinterested. You can also make a game of hiding treats in appropriate areas throughout the house to send your pets on little scavenger hunts that will keep them away from ripping up the carpet.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy toys, either; there are simple ones you can make yourself at home that should still keep your doggie distracted. Try wrapping a water bottle or two liter soda bottle in an old shirt. The crinkling noise is oh so satisfying as they chew, and your smell on the shirt may also relieve some of their separation issues. You can also create your own puzzle with a muffin tin, tennis balls and treats. Put treats in a few of the holes and fill most of them with tennis balls. Your pet will have to move the balls around to get to their treat. For other awesome at-home toy ideas, head online and visit http://thebarkpost.com/3-dog-toys-you-can-make-from-things-around-the-house.

Expending Energy

Regular exercise is an important part of any pet’s health, but it can also help relieve animals who are dealing with separation anxiety. Since domesticated dogs no longer have to scavenge for food, they need to find other ways to release pent up energy that would normally be spent hunting. A long walk before or after work or a short trip to the dog park should do the trick. Teaching your dog to fetch and letting him romp around with the kids can provide both great exercise and a fun bonding experience. You can even schedule play dates with friends or family members. For indoor cats, firing up a laser pointer or dragging a bit of string behind them can get them tired out. Having more than one animal is also helpful as pets will have a companion to burn up their energy with.

Crate Training

When toys, treats or exercise don’t do the trick, you may wonder if crate training is an effective alternative. There’s no direct yes or no answer here. While it can help prevent destruction and give your pet a relaxing space of their own, animals with extreme anxiety can end up feeling confined and may hurt themselves trying to escape. If you are going to crate train, it’s more important than ever to downplay excitement when you return home so that your pet isn’t constantly anticipating your return. As stated above, showing that your departure and return isn’t something to get overly anxious about will help your pet learn to accept it as part of a normal routine and should prevent any crate related injuries.

The best solution for making your pet less anxious is making them feel truly loved. Pets want to feel like a part of the “pack” so it’s important to include them in as many family activities as possible. Your days can easily become demanding, but time away from your pet can make them feel unnecessarily nervous as well. By keeping them close when you’re at home and making them feel comfortable when you’re away, you can lessen the problem of separation anxiety and have a more fulfilling life with your furry friend.

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