Take your keys to bed and your dog will thank you for it
Businesses are beginning to open up and while you may not go back to work just yet, you may start to leave your house more often for other reasons.
Have you thought about how your new puppy or dog might react to your disappearance after being home so much?
You aren’t alone. A number of you have written me to ask about this issue.
A couple years ago, (initially unbeknownst to me), Rae, my 4 year old Aussie, realized that when I opened my bathroom shade, it meant we were ready to go downstairs. But as the sun came up earlier and earlier in the Spring, I started raising my shade earlier to use the natural light as I put on my make-up. Raising my shade no longer meant we were ready to head out and start the day.
Rae was incensed! Why weren’t we headed downstairs!? She started staring at me, wiggling, whining and then started barking!
It took me a while to figure out why. The shade was her cue!
This was interesting to me and I wondered how long it would take her to desensitize to the shade – to stop pairing the shade with going downstairs.
So I tested it.
Just like us, your dog makes associations based on past experience and behavior can even becomes automatic. A sudden change in that association can now cause your dog to get anxious, just like it did with Rae and the shade.
And when that association tells your dog that you will be leaving… and probably for a long time… the anxiety can be profound enough to basically cause a “panic attack”.
With a “panic attack”, your dog can become destructive. Very destructive. Not to be spiteful or to “teach you a lesson”, but because your dog gets so upset, worried and panicked that that energy is released in the only way they know how – whining, barking, having accidents or chewing. They can’t control it!
Next thing you know, you are getting the rugs cleaned… again…, replacing furniture or worse… on the phone with contractors getting estimates on repairs to the door frame, cabinets and more. I have many photos from clients with huge holes in their walls, dog with injured paws and more. The damage from a panic attack can be astounding as well as scary and dangerous.
Remember that your dog has a whole different sense of time and little to distract them from thinking about you, so even when they don’t panic, they may be depressed and/or wonder if they’ve been abandoned every time you leave.
Here are 3 ways to get started to help prevent and treat separation anxiety:
- Separate from your dog for short periods of time, at random times. Slowly increase the length of time but continue to separate at random times and for random amounts of time so your dog won’t know if you are leaving for 1 minute, 1 hour or 1 day.
- Change any cues that can mean you are leaving. Pick up your purse, put on your coat, grab your keys, put on your shoes or whatever you normally do when you leave your house, at random times, so your dog does not always pair these as cues with your absence.
- Make departures and arrivals boring. Very boring. It’s hard to do because it feels impolite not to say goodbye when you leave, but it can help lower your dog’s anxiety.
Not your problem? Your dog has always been fine when you left in the past? That is no indication of what might happen when you return to work.
So, get started now especially if you have a puppy or even more so, if you have a rescue. It’s really important to prepare your dog for a change in schedule.
Remember I said I tested how long it would take Rae to stop reacting when I raised the shade? As it turned out, it took about 11 weeks.
Yes, 11 weeks.
Get started now and get your dog ready for the changes ahead.
Start today by picking up your keys before you go to bed, putting on your jacket for breakfast and pretending to set the alarm before you settle in with a good book on the couch. In the long run, these little things will benefit both you and your dog.
Thanks for reading and now I’d love to hear from you. Please scroll down and leave a comment.