Updated: Jun 7
One of the hardest dog behavior to manage can be separation anxiety. Like humans, all dogs are different and react very differently when left alone, especially rescue pups. Fortunately there are ways to help alleviate this anxiety, but they all come with their own set of challenges for both human and pups.
When I adopted Lily a few years ago, I got a hefty dose of just how difficult a dog with severe separation anxiety can be when adjusting to a new forever home. Poor Lily was a street dog and in and out shelters the first 2 years of her life, and prior to my adopting her she was with a homeless person for several months and was NEVER alone! My personal theory is Lily's combo of deep rooted fear of being abandoned and never having an actual home compiled into the biggest doozy of separation anxiety that I have ever witnessed!
The first few days after I brought her home, we spent time getting to know Lily with my other dog Mystertee. We established where all the food and water bowls would go, went on several walks together (Lily was not potty trained but that is an entire separate story), bought all kinds of new toys, and had lots of couch snuggles. It was wonderful! I loved having a second dog!!
Then on day 3 I had to go back to work....I had a friend on her way to come stay with Lily for the day while I worked but there was a 10 minute gap between when I had to leave and when she arrived. In that 10 minutes, Lily pooped and peed all over the house, climbed up the furniture to the second story window and managed to get it open, started clawing and chewing at the screen trying to escape. My neighbor saw her just as she almost fell 2 stories and made it upstairs to pull her back in and called me to let me know my sweet little Lily had switched into monster mode as soon as left. Oh my lord what had I adopted.....
What I very quickly learned is that Lily had wicked separation anxiety, to the point where where she was unable to be left alone for any amount of time. She peed and pooped everywhere, clawed and destroyed furniture, and poor Mystertee was a stress mess too. This had to stop, what was I going to do with this monster mode??
As I soon learned, all of these behaviors Lily was displaying were classic separation anxiety. Urinating and defecating, barking and howling, chewing and destroying things, pacing and escaping are all different ways a dog behaves when anxious from being alone. Thankfully, there are things we can do to help relax our best buddies and ease the anxiety:
Exercise! A tired dog is a happy dog, and less prone to getting stressed when a stressor appears. Make sure your pup gets at least 30 minutes every day of dedicated doggie exercise.
Treats when you leave. Just before you leave, give your pup a delicious treat that will occupy a good amount of their time, such as a KONG stuffed with something super yummy or a puzzle with food in it that will take 20-30 minutes to complete. Over time, your pup will start to associate your leaving with delicious snacks!
Crate training. I recommend crates for all pups but the process of crate training is a science all in itself. My personal advice to make the crate like Doggie Disneyland and the happiest place in the world for your dog! Feed them their meals in the crate, lots of treats in the crate, and lots of positive praise when in the crate. Dogs like having their own cozy cave, so make it home for them.
Dog CBD. Check out my other post HERE for more details on how this works. Basically it takes the edge off of the stress response and can really help mellow out anxiety in dogs.
Dog Day Care and Adventures! Enter Surf's Pup!! One of the reasons I created Surf's Pup is due to my experience with Lily and not being able to leave her alone, ever, for several months. I did not surf, run, or go to yoga and it was really tough to do errands. Dog day care is fantastic for most dogs, but it did not work for Lily unfortunately, she was too upset when I left her there, so we had to resort to one-on-one human attention and have someone stay with her when I was not able to be with her. Most dogs just need a human around to ease anxiety, so one-on-one short term hourly dog day care and dog adventures with Surf's Pup can ease the challenges of managing separation anxiety and help YOU get some much needed stress relief or errands done!
Hire a trainer. I had to hire someone to help me, I was too overwhelmed, and it was worth every penny. For 3 months, Lily would go to her trainer's house while I worked my 12 hours shifts. During that time, Lily got used to the crate, was able to socialize with other dogs, and the monster mode slowly faded. If you are feeling overwhelmed, ask for help, sometimes it takes a village to care for our rescue pups and new pups!!
There are also other behavior tips you can do with your dog and the ASPCA has a wonderful article HERE that goes into further explanation. Most important, be patient with your dog, they are doing their very best to be a good dog. It takes time to adjust, but it is so worth all the trouble and effort when adopting or rescuing your new best friend and bringing them into a forever home. Lily was so tough, but now a few years later she still has a bit of a monster mode but she is HAPPY and she is HEALTHY! I saved her life, and I will do it again any day because the love we get from our dogs is the greatest gift on the planet. So be patient with your anxious pup, I promise you will never regret having a dog in your life.
Have a story about separation anxiety with your doggie? Please share with us!