Separation Anxiety: Why Alone Time is So Important
As humans, many of us can understand the importance of some alone time. It is during our quiet time that we can just be and relax. It is also a time where we can think, contemplate, and unwind. Whilst our dogs do not need to contemplate life as such, alone time is just as important. It is crucial for their development and in shaping their ability to relax and be confident on their own. Developing independence is very important for all dogs.
Without adequate alone time, behavioural issues can occur, particularly separation anxiety.
As much as we would like to spend every waking moment with our beloved pets, alone time is imperative to help your dog cope with being on their own. Giving your dog sufficient time on their own is needed if they are to establish or maintain their own independence away from you.
The ability for them to be calm and confident when left alone is significant in deterring any anxious behaviours relating to separation. There is no doubt that dogs are social animals and like to be around us but the fact is we need to go out and they need to be able to cope.
Think about it like this; Your dog spends every waking (and sleeping moment) by your side. He is comfortable and content with his human and knows that this is all part of his daily routine. Imagine if you go away on holidays or your working situation changes, and you no longer work from home. He is not used to being left alone and as a result, he can become vulnerable, anxious and stressed. This can lead to constant barking, digging and destructive chewing.
Common Mistakes Owners Can Make:
1. Taking their puppy everywhere for fear it will be frightened during their absence
Whilst it is important for your puppy to be involved in many new experiences, it is equally important that they can cope on their own. A puppy that is carted here, there and everywhere will never have the opportunity to develop his own independence away from you and will struggle when the time comes for the inevitable separation (even if only for a short time).
2. Allowing dogs to follow them from room to room at home all day
For those who work from home, it is important that you allow your dog opportunities throughout the day to relax without constant access to you.
3. Filling up their day with constant activities (i.e. Doggy Day Care)
Typically, a dog will sleep for most of the day providing they are comfortable and relaxed with being alone. They do not need to be occupied all day. This can result in over-stimulation and thus make independence, confidence, and the ability to self regulate on its own harder to grasp.
4. Making coming and goings too significant
Many families will admit to making a big deal of leaving the house, offering plenty of pats, cuddles, treats, and fuss. This behaviour will only increase your dog’s anxiety levels. Dogs are the masters of body language and your dramatic change of behaviour right as you leave will be very significant to your dog. Instead, keep your coming and goings uneventful so that they begin to realise that when you leave the house it is “no big deal”. You can even make it a positive experience by offering a chew which in turn can build a positive association with alone time. (please note a stressed dog will not eat so if you are leaving chews and finding them untouched upon return you may already have some dependency issues developing)
Why Is Alone Time Important?
Plain and simple; alone time gives a dog an opportunity to learn to cope and grow confident without your constant presence or the company of others.
Most owners cannot devote their entire days to lavishing their dogs in attention, which is why it is important to get your dog used to some alone time, early in life. Work commitments, family holidays and other events may mean that there will be extended periods of time where you will be apart from your dog. If your dog has not established its own independence, that time away from you can be especially distressing for your dog.
If your dog can’t cope with being alone when you are in the home with them, it would be foolish to think they will cope without you when you leave the house.
When shaping behaviours and building confidence it is always best they begin as early as possible.
What Will Happen If I Do Not Allow My Dog Enough Alone Time?
If your dog does not have enough alone time they may begin to develop dependency which can then lead to the more serious concern, separation anxiety. With dogs, behaviours do not just fade with time, they will not just “grow out of it”. Generally in many cases behaviours will continue to build, develop and can worsen.
If a dog has separation anxiety, they can become stressed, anxious, excessively pace and pant, become destructive, nuisance bark, toilet inappropriately, dig and in some cases, try to escape.
3 Top Tips for Alone Time:
1. Avoid spending every moment you are in the home with your dog. Have some time where they don’t have full access to you.
2. Make sure your dog’s alone time is at varied times of the day and for different lengths of time
3. Avoid returning to a dog when it is unsettled, try to only return to a calm dog.
What If I Work From Home?
Many of us now have the luxury of working from home and in turn, enjoy the company of our furry friends. Although the notion of hanging out with your dog all day may seem wonderful, constant access can be detrimental and potentially cause behavioural issues.
If you do work from home, your dog may spend his days curled up beside you, following you from room to room or sitting beneath your desk but as much as we love their love and companionship, it is important to remember to give them some “alone time” especially when you are home.
By giving your dog time alone either outside or quiet time in a crate, you are aiding his ability to cope without you. These are both ideal methods but for this to work you will need to ensure you are not in his line of vision so draw the curtains or keep the crate in a separate room. Self separation where we ensure our dogs have alone time, must be both visual and physical time away from you to be effective. It is best done when you are home so you can return to your dog shortly after it has settled reinforcing the concept that the quicker they relax and calm down the quicker you will return.
An independent dog is more likely to be content and confident with being left alone and less likely to develop common behavioural issues such as separation anxiety, barking problems or destructive behaviour.