It may seem comical to watch videos of dogs who have seemingly destroyed a favorite pillow or chewed up the furniture while the owner was away. There might be a dog sitting in the corner looking slightly guilty while he is humorously grilled to figure out “whodunnit?” But the reality of these situations may be more than just bad manners when left alone. In fact, it may be something much more serious that can affect dogs of any shape, size, or breed.
Small dogs, in particular, may struggle with what is known as “separation anxiety”. This is a condition where a dog may become stressed when left alone or when he sees signs of his owners preparing to leave the house. Symptoms of separation anxiety can manifest as general destructiveness, using the bathroom inside the house, or even dangerous attempts at escaping the home entirely. A small dog with this type of anxiety may bark incessantly, tear at the molding along doors or walls, or use the bathroom in inappropriate places. It’s important to understand that this type of anxiety is not bad behavior, but it is a genuine mental condition that needs to be addressed.
Dealing with separation anxiety in small dogs requires tons of work and patience, especially in the early stages. Nobody wants a stressed out pup! You’ll need to take steps to properly diagnose separation anxiety by doing research and writing down your dog’s symptoms. Consider setting up a camera or webcam when you’re away to really get a good idea of what your dog does when you leave the house. Depending on the severity of his anxiety, there are several pathways to recovery that can be explored, but any dog with this type of disorder can use these techniques together for added benefit and effectiveness.
Plan on spending about three to four months working through this issue with your small dog, especially if he is particularly attached to you! It takes time to recondition your dog’s thinking in order to trust that you’ll come back when you leave. Don’t hesitate to use these techniques even with a puppy, as it can help to establish a comfortable foundation later on if he ever needs to be left alone for some time.
Have your dog assessed by a veterinarian before engaging in any of these training methods, as you’ll want to be able to rule out a medical condition that may be causing similar symptoms. If he is properly diagnosed, then you can continue to prepare for your training.
Have a discussion with anyone else who shares your home as to what type of training method you’ll be using, then get any supplies together to place in an easily accessible area. Treats and toys can be good distractions and reinforcement tools, while a crate may provide a safe area to house your pup when you’re away. Get everyone on the same page and focus heavily on consistency throughout your training. Coping with separation anxiety very often takes the effort of multiple people in order to provide adequate support to the dog who needs it.