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Separation Anxiety Can Develop During the Holidays: How You Can Help Your Dog Deal with His Fear of Being Alone

October 28, 2010
Cute Dog Wearing a Santa Hat Sitting by a Christmas Tree

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season – you may find yourself running around on holiday shopping trips and going to parties, and spending less time at home. Other than a few neglected household duties, this may not be a big deal for you, but for your dog, it can be a huge adjustment. For most dogs, extra time home alone during the holidays doesn’t present a problem. However, if your dog starts to appear anxious when you are leaving and overly excited when you come home, and he is chewing up everything in sight, he may be experiencing separation anxiety.

Going beyond simply being lonely, separation anxiety is a very real condition that can be just as distressing for dog owners as it is for the dog himself. It means your dog is actually afraid to be alone, and he will often act out his fears by excessive chewing, barking and/or whining, and urinating and defecating indoors. He could develop “hot spots,” which are areas of raw, often hairless skin caused by excessive licking or scratching. You may come home to find the Christmas decorations torn to shreds and a little “present” for you under what’s left of the tree. Instead of getting angry with your dog and punishing him, which may actually exacerbate the problem, try the suggestions below, which may help your dog be less fearful of being alone:

  • Change Your Daily Routine – Dogs are pretty perceptive and pick up on their owner’s daily routines. If there are certain things you do before you leave each day, going through your routine without leaving the house will help your dog to disassociate your behavior with being left alone. Also, if you don’t make a big deal about leaving or coming home, your dog will sense it’s not a big deal, too, and act accordingly. For example, try to not say “goodbye” and make a fuss when you leave, and when you come home, simply walk in as though you’ve just been in another room. Also, while it can be difficult to ignore a yelping, jumping dog who is obviously thrilled to see you when you come home, don’t react or pet him until he calms down. By fussing over him when he is in an excited state, you are reinforcing bad behavior.
  • Give Your Dog KONG Toys – If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, it may be better to spread his holiday gifts out over the entire season, giving your dog something new to explore and investigate every few days. One of these gifts should be a classic KONG toy, which is great for a dog with separation anxiety because it diverts the dog’s attention from your departure, and you may be able to leave without your dog even noticing. KONG toys come in a variety of shapes and sizes – including the Extreme KONG for aggressive chewers – all of which can be filled with KONG’s own stuffings, peanut butter, food or a favorite treat. You can also make your own stuffings, perhaps even turning it into a fun holiday activity to do with the kids. There are several no-cook recipes online for dog treats that would be easy – and safe – for children to make.
  • Turn on Some White Noise – Sometimes, the silence in the home when everyone is away can be enough to trigger separation anxiety, so playing a radio while you are out may help to keep an episode at bay. A classical music station can soothe your dog’s frazzled nerves and make him feel as if he’s not alone. Just don’t tune in to a rock music station or a talk radio program with a lot of debating and raised voices, both of which can have an effect opposite of what you hope to accomplish!
  • Utilize Your Dog’s Superior Sense of Smell – Dogs are scent-driven creatures, so a little aromatherapy may help to relieve some of your dog’s anxiety. Aromatherapy is a completely natural therapy that has been used for centuries for a variety of ailments in people and animals, including stress and nervousness. Your own personal scent is comforting to your dog, so leaving an unwashed shirt or article of clothing you have recently worn in his favorite napping spot or other “safe” area while you are gone will give your dog a sense of familiarity and help keep him calm until you return. An essential oil diffuser with calming scents like lavender and neroli, which are frequently used with babies and are recommended for people who have trouble sleeping, might also have a relaxing effect on your dog. Other scents to consider are marjoram, valerian, spikenard and green mandarin.
  • If these suggestions don’t work, or if your dog exhibits extreme behavior, such as attempting to chew and claw through doors, windows and walls, consult your veterinarian or a canine behavior specialist.

    It is important to be patient when dealing with a dog that has separation anxiety. The holidays can be very stressful for people, so you can imagine what your dog might be going through. No, he doesn’t have parties to attend or gifts to wrap, but a houseful of new objects with strange scents, and family members who suddenly aren’t home as much as usual can be distressing. Remember, your dog isn’t acting this way because he is bad; it is because he is afraid. Patience, understanding and behavior modification – on your part and your dog’s – will help him overcome his separation anxiety and become a happy, healthy dog.

    For more information on KONG toys, contact the KONG Company at 303-216-2626 or visit http://www.KONGcompany.com.

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