As much as we love spending time with our dogs, it isn't possible to be at home with them every hour of every day. Chances are, there will be times when they'll need to be left on their own at home.
We’ve teamed up with Dogs for Good to create this video and guide, which will help you prepare both you and your dog for the times when they will need to be left at home without you. You'll find tips on creating a safe and comfortable space for your dog and reducing separation anxiety.
What is separation anxiety in dogs?
Separation anxiety can occur in dogs when they become distressed to be left alone. Dogs of all ages and breeds may show signs of separation anxiety.
Some signs of separation anxiety include barking, whining, disinterest in treats or toys, toileting inside and destructive behaviour, such as scratching or chewing furniture.
Creating a safe space
Making sure your dog has a safe space within the home is very important for any dog, but especially if they are showing signs of separation anxiety. They need a place where they feel safe and secure, whether you are in the home or otherwise. It can take the form of a crate or bed, depending on how you have trained your dog and what their preferences are, complete with a blanket and their favourite toy.
If they are comfortable in this space, they will be more likely to continue to feel secure even when you are not home with them.
Understanding your dog's triggers
Triggers for anxiety can differ from one dog to another, so it's important to make sure you are familiar with your dog's individual triggers.
Triggers can include loud noises, people passing nearby or bright lights, such as streetlights shining through a nearby window. Think about things like closing the curtains or leaving a radio on to lessen their effects, or whether it may be better to set up your dog's safe space in a different room.
The good news is that it's perfectly possible to lessen and remove your dog's separation anxiety through training. Once your dog is comfortable in their safe space, you can begin to introduce distance.
When your dog is settled into their safe space, take one step away from the bed. It's important to start small and not try to introduce too much distance straight away! Remember that repetition and practice is key, so take your time with this step before moving on to the next.
Build up the distance between you and your dog slowly. For the second step, take two or three steps away from the bed and repeat the process above.
Once your dog is comfortable with you moving some distance away from them within the same room, it's time to try moving into a different room while they stay in their bed or crate. Take this slowly and remember to practice and repeat this and the above steps.
You can now start thinking about preparing your dog for you leaving the house. You can build to this step by starting to do things like putting on your coat or picking up your keys, while continuing the training in the steps above. This may take some time, so don't worry if you need to practice and repeat these steps a number of times.
It can't be repeated enough – repetition is key! Keep practicing step-by-step training, and don't worry if sometimes you need to go back to previous steps. Training shouldn't be a stressful or difficult process for either you or your dog – try to keep it friendly, positive and rewarding for your dog. A few small treats will go a long way with this!
How long can a dog be left alone?
Every dog is different, so you should make sure you are not leaving your dog alone for longer than they are comfortable with, even if general guidance may suggest a longer time.
The RSPCA advises that adult dogs shouldn't be left alone regularly for longer than four hours. For puppies, this time is much shorter.
Preparing your dog to be left alone
Whenever you are planning to leave your dog alone, especially for an extended period of time, you should make sure you and your dog are prepared.
Step one: Exercise your dog
Your dog should be properly exercised before you leave. This will mean they have burned off some of their energy, and also they will have spent some special time with you, which will always be a good thing in their eyes!
Step two: Give them everything they need
They should have everything they need while you are away, such as their normal toys and blanket, as well as access to plenty of clean water.
Step three: Don't make a fuss
This is important for both when you leave and when you arrive. Your comings and goings should feel normal for your dog – making a fuss when saying hello or goodbye can stop this sense of normality developing.
Step four: Don't tell them off
Try not to get annoyed or angry with your dog if they do show signs of separation anxiety, as this may well make the problem worse. Take the time to train them by following all of the steps above to reduce the effects of their separation anxiety. If you are still worried, you might want to have a chat with your vet for advice.
Protecting your dog
Whether you're staying in or going out with your dog, having the right level of insurance can help give you peace of mind if they get ill or injured.