Sometimes we forget that we are our dog’s whole world.
We are their guardians who provide them with food, love, and praise. And dogs are social animals who form strong bonds with people, so it is not surprising that they may feel somewhat anxious when separated from their social group.
For this reason, many dogs experience separation anxiety when left home alone. Unless you have an awesome job that allows you to bring your pup to work with you, or you are able to work from home, it’s likely that your dog is home alone for the better part of the day.
Luckily, avid dog-lover Sam Lovett came up with the idea of Dog Buddy Match — a networking tool that allows neighbors to meet, connect, and design a plan to have their dogs stay together during the day to help reduce separation anxiety and keep them mentally and physically stimulated.
Understanding Separation Anxiety
Some dog parents overlook the symptoms of separation anxiety — barking/howling, urinating/defecating, chewing, escaping, and/or pacing — assuming that these behaviors are just bad manners, rather than symptoms of distress. For this reason it is important to understand what separation anxiety looks like, and how you can help alleviate that stress.
In some cases, dogs may be genetically-predisposed to anxiety but inappropriate or insufficient socialization experiences during the juvenile period is the most likely cause. For some dogs, no initiating trigger can be identified. Symptoms of separation anxiety may develop gradually over time or may appear in full-blown form the first time they are left alone.
The onset of separation anxiety sometimes occurs after the dog is exposed to an experience that disrupts their social bond. This can occur when owners board the dog for vacation or change their work schedule. It may also occur when a household member leaves or dies, or when the dog is relocated to a new house or household.
Overly indulgent owners may promote separation distress in predisposed dogs. Owners of dogs that show separation distress are often nurturing, empathetic people who indulge their dog. They allow the dog to follow them around the house and encourage the exuberant welcome the dog gives them when they return home. Somewhat less-nurturing (but by no means neglectful) owners may help instill independence in the dog thus circumventing the worst throes of the problem and permitting its gradual resolution.
Finally, don’t confuse separation anxiety with a lack of stimulation, which often leads dogs to engage in excessive and destructive behaviors.
The Importance of Mental and Physical Stimulation
Various levels of environmental deprivation occur when dogs are inadequately exercised, spend too long indoors, do not receive adequate attention, or do not have an opportunity to engage in species-typical behaviors.
The opportunity to get adequate exercise is arguably one of the most important aspects of a dog’s mental and physical enrichment. Exercise is not only good for the body, but it also generates mental dividends that last all day long. Most people think they are doing the right thing for their dog if they take him for a mile walk every day, or turn him out in the back yard to sniff around when nature calls, but that’s merely scratching the surface. Twenty to 30 minutes of aerobic (running) exercise is minimal for a healthy dog. This can be provided by throwing a tennis ball or a Frisbee for the dog to catch, or by taking him for a jog or an off-lead hike over open terrain.
It can also be accomplished with doggie play dates, which are great ways for dogs (and their owners) to meet, greet, socialize, and play in a safe and comfortable environment.
All dogs need to learn socialization skills. When they are puppies, their moms generally teach them some social skills when it comes to interacting with siblings, but they also need to be taught how to interact with other dogs, strangers, and people in general. A dog that is not exposed to other dogs will more often than not react in an aggressive manner should he happen to come into contact with a “strange” dog. It also helps a dog become at ease with their owner paying attention to other dogs. Dogs that have not been socialized can react with hostility when their owner shows any kind of attention to another dog.
Play dates help dogs to learn how to react and behave appropriately with other dogs, as well as how to behave around people they may not know. And, of course, playing keeps them busy, gives them a release, and allows them to just have fun!