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Lonely dogs are more anxious, but their owners can help

The bad news is, dog owners often leave behind lonely dogs to deal with anxiety when they go to work each morning. The good news is, there are a few steps dog owners can take to make their canine companions feel better.

That’s what Alice Potter and Dr. Emily Blackwell, both experts on dogs, told the Daily Mail in a recent interview.

“The separation reaction is displayed soon after the departure of the owner, normally commencing within 30 minutes, and often within the first few minutes,” said Potter, a pet scientist with the RSPCA.

Signs can include scratching or biting at the door the owner left through, defecation, urination, howling, other destructive behavior and other stress activities, she said.

The stress can hit dogs before their owner even leaves, said Blackwell, who studies human-animal interactions at the University of Bristol. They learn their owners’ routines, and can pick up when they’re preparing to leave.

Some dogs eventually accept they’ve been left alone and find distractions. But for especially lonely dogs, anxiety can last for hours or even until their owner returns, Blackwell said.

To find out which type of dog you have, Potter recommends setting up a camera, since most canines hide the extent of their anxiety from their owners. A pacing pooch caught on camera could use a little extra reassurance.

The good news, if you’re feeling guilty, is that there are a few steps owners can take to help reassure their lonely dogs.

First, owners should never punish dogs for going to the bathroom while they’re out and about. That just makes their separation anxiety worse, Potter told the Mail.

Second, people should take their dogs out for exercise and make sure they’ve had enough to eat before leaving. Dogs who have a chance to run off extra energy and a full belly are more likely to be relaxed.

Dogs with severe separation anxiety can be taught to treat their beds as a comfort area, Blackwell said. First, owners should encourage their dogs to go to their bed and stay there while they’re in the same room and nearby. Reward dogs with a treat for staying.

Then, gradually move away from the bed, starting with short distances and times, and extending to longer periods and even leaving the room. Reward the dog whenever they stay quietly in the bed, and reassure them that you will return.

This gets your pup used to the idea of being alone now and then.

The Humane Society of the United States offers a few other tips:

  • Don’t treat departures or arrivals like a big deal
  • Use a specific word or action every time you leave that signals to your dog that you’ll be back
  • Leave out a piece of clothing that smells like you
  • Have special toys that will provide distraction when you leave
  • In severe cases, try a calming product suggested by your veterinarian

Crate training, leaving the TV on or getting another pooch doesn’t usually help lonely dogs, the Humane Society said.

If nothing works, it might be time to try doggie daycare or to find out if your workplace allows pets on the premises.

By Kyla Cathey, Staff Writer

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