After the fun and playtime of summer vacation, fall can be tough on dogs who've become used to having the kids around. For some dogs, the household changes that accompany a school-year routine — particularly the absence of family from the house all day — may be distressing, triggering bouts of destructiveness.
Signs your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety include destructive or anxious behaviors like:
- Excessive barking and whining
- House soiling
- Destructive chewing and ripping
- Attempting to escape from the house or yard
If your dog seems stressed about the disruption, there are ways you can minimize his anxiety and soothe him when he is alone.
1) Schedule an appointment with your vet.
Have your dog fully evaluated and correctly diagnosed before trying to manage the symptoms. Your dog’s anxiety might have an underlying medical cause or your vet might have some additional ideas to help relieve your dog’s stress.
2) Provide a special chew toy
Have a really good chewy that's just for his alone time and hand it to him as you and the children leave the house. Similar to feeding your dog his meal using food puzzles, a chew toy is a great way to keep your dog focused on something other than your departure. Just make sure the chew toy is safe to leave with the unattended dog. Stuff a Kong toy with a little peanut butter and let him have at it. Digging out the good stuff will keep your dog busy, relieve him of some of that excess energy and help him over the worst part of his separation from the family — the beginning. Puzzle toys and chew items encourage chewing and licking, which have been shown to have a calming effect on dogs.
3) Encourage independence at home.
Don't let your dog shadow you at home. All that devotion is wonderful and it feeds our human egos, but it makes matters worse when you leave. If you have a dog who isn't happy unless some part of him is touching some part of you, encourage his confidence and independence by practicing long "down-stays" (periods of time when he is lying down, and staying down, on command) on the other side of the room every night. Build up to 30 minutes as you watch TV — you on one side of the room, him on the other. Don't forget to praise him for staying.
4) Add extra exercise to his day
During these transition times, providing opportunities for your dog to burn off extra energy (such as extra walks and more scheduled playtime) can help curb boredom and diminish some of his destructive tendencies.
5) Avoid over stimulation when coming and going
A good rule for both you and the children is to keep all entrances and exits low-key. When you leave, calmly tell your dog to "guard the house" or something similar, and give him his special chewy or toy. When you return, tell him to "sit." Praise him just the tiniest bit and then ignore him completely for the next 10 minutes. You'll need to be strong and do this for a while until they gets used to the routine.