When a dog owner decides that they are going to enrol their dog in doggie daycare, one of the possible hurdles they have to overcome, or more to the point, their dog has to overcome, is separation anxiety. This occurs when a dog becomes anxious and displays certain behaviours such as whining, barking, and howling, to name but three, whenever they are separated from their owner or others in their owner’s family.
When they are puppies most dogs will have a degree of separation anxiety, which is understandable given that they’re young, still learning, and the fact that instinctively dogs are pack animals and therefore more comfortable when in the company of others, be that dogs, humans, or other animals.
When separation anxiety becomes a problem is when a puppy grows into an adult but still reacts whenever it realises that it is going to be left alone. This can cause huge problems for their owners, especially when they need to leave for work, as their dog starts behaving in ways which can be upsetting, and also embarrassing should the dog howl for hours, no doubt to the annoyance of neighbours.
Thankfully, most dogs with separation anxiety can be helped. We use “helped” instead of cured because separation anxiety is not defined as a medical condition but as a behavioural problem. Rest assured, it is a problem that can be overcome if your dog has separation anxiety, provided you are prepared to show patience, understanding, and compassion for your dog, and also accept that you do bear some responsibility.
We say that not to point the finger of blame but to emphasise that separation anxiety occurs in dogs that have not been taught that being left alone is something they should be relaxed about. What happens is a puppy owner will rush back inside their home to comfort that puppy when it whimpers or barks as its owner leaves them. This teaches the puppy that if they are anxious, whining and barking bring their owner back to them, so it sets that default behaviour into adulthood.
So, if you have an adult dog you want to enrol in doggie daycare, but know that their separation anxiety might hinder that, then here are some tips for you to teach your dog that being separated from you is not something to become alarmed or anxious about, to the point that it hardly notices you are gone.
Be Calm But Assertive: No matter what you are teaching your dog, calm and assertive is how you should be. Dogs feed off your energy, so the calmer you are, the more relaxed they will be. Also, be assertive without being overly aggressive towards your dog. Dogs know who is boss but sometimes need reminding now and again which is where an assertive tone is needed when training them.
Do Not Make A Fuss Of Them When Leaving; The biggest mistake owners make when they are leaving their dog is to turn it into a scene where they hug, kiss, and cuddle their dog and make a huge fuss over them. All this fuss is not helpful and can raise their excitement and anxiety, so instead simply say goodbye and leave.
Help Them Release Some Energy By Exercising Them Beforehand: Anxiety levels are proportional to the energy levels a dog has, so a way to reduce both is to ensure you let your dog have some exercise before you leave them at doggie daycare. Letting them play “fetch the ball” for even 5 – 10 minutes will be enough to burn off much of their excess energy and so they will be more likely to be relaxed when you depart.