In celebration of national relaxation week, we are highlighting the importance of noticing if our animals are stressed, as well as providing some tips on how to help them calm down.


Every pet parent must understand their animals behaviour so they can take the relevant steps to ensure they are as content as possible.


Some dogs suffer from separation-related behaviour (or separation anxiety) which means they aren’t used to being left along for long periods of time. Research suggests that 8 out of 10 dogs find it hard to cope when left alone, but the way they show their feelings differ. 


Spotting Potential Separation Anxiety

Some dogs will bark uncontrollably or destroy items, whereas others will sit quietly, worried and distressed. It is thought that almost half of dogs suffering from separation anxiety won’t display any signs, which means their problems may forever go unnoticed.


So you may be wondering how you will spot any potential issue that arise when you're not with your pet. One way is to ask a trusted friend, family member or neighbour to check the perimeters of your house e.g. listening for any loud noises or peeking through windows to see if they can spot or hear an animal in distress. Alternatively, you could set up a camera to watch how your pet reacts whilst you away from your house.


The signs of distress will usually begin within the first 30 minutes of you leaving the house, although some can begin almost immediately. It is likely that they will continue until you return. Even if your dog appears happy to see you upon your return, this doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced distress while you were gone. It is impossible to be with your pet every minute of every day which is why it is essential to teach them that it is okay to be left alone sometimes. 


When teaching a pet to be alone, you should experiment with leaving them for a short period of time and gradually increase at a pace that suits your individual animal. It is important that you reward good behaviour but never punish non desirable behaviour – instead, simply withhold the reward.



Managing and Treating Separation Anxiety

Toys and enrichment activities: Ensure your pet has a mentally stimulating toy or food-related activity to keep them entertained whilst you are away from home. This should hopefully distract them from their distress and prevent them from relieving their boredom elsewhere (like chewing/ scratching furniture). However, make sure that you are not overfeeding your pet, or feeding them too many ‘treat’ items. It would be beneficial to maintain the speciality of this mentally stimulating activity by only giving it to your pet whilst you aren’t home, and taking it off them once you return.


Preparation: If you know you will be away from home for some time, try to spend time with your pet before you go. Take them for a walk so that they have the opportunity to toilet outside, and allow them to tire themselves out with exercise. This way, your pet will be much more inclined to relax when they get home.


Minimise disturbances: Howling or barking may be your dog’s reaction to outside disturbances. Therefore, in an attempt to stop these noises and calm your pooch, try to minimise disturbances as much as possible, for example by closing curtains or playing calming music (at a low volume).


Company: If your dog really struggles with being left alone and nothing seems to tackle their problems, it may be useful to consider getting a dog sitter. Whether this be a professional business or a trusted family member, having someone else home may relieve the anxiety they feel when you leave.


Seeking the help of a professional

If the above advice doesn’t seem to help, consider talking to your vet who will be familiar with you and your dog’s individual circumstances. They may then refer you to a clinical animal behaviourist who will help you identify the underlying cause of the problem and develop a treatment plan that tackles any problems.