Many Happy Returns: Expert Tricks for Calming Your Pet's Separation Anxiety

From crate training to interactive toys, here's what you should know before you walk out the door

It's inevitable that you'll need to leave your pup home alone. Some pets handle this well, while others react with anxiety, fear and plain-old boredom when they’ve been left behind. What’s a loving pet owner to do? Dr. Katherine Miller of the ASPCA offers her advice.

Understand Doggy Nature

Dogs are a social species and evolve with packs. They bond very strongly with their human companions. The more strongly bonded he is and the less experience he has being left alone, the more stressful it will be. “Leaving domestic dogs home alone all day is a really modern situation,” says Dr. Miller. “Typically, they had things to do, because they were following people around, or working on farms. They aren’t evolved to deal with what to do with themselves when they’re alone.”

Teach Him to Entertain Himself

Too often, people shower new pets with attention, giving the pup days on end of constant interaction. When the daily grind goes back to normal, the pup is left wondering where his playmate went. When settling a new pet into your home, it’s essential to get him acclimated to being alone for increasingly longer time periods, so he’ll be able to cope with the separation. Give him toys to play with, especially ones to chew on, so he’s less likely to nibble your favorite slippers.

Crate-Train to Start

It’s important that your pet be content in a small space such as a crate, just in case you need to confine him for his own safety. “You want your dog to earn house privileges and show he can be trusted,” says Dr. Miller. If you give him the run of the house right away, he’s much more likely to get into things.

Wear Him Out

If he’s going to be alone all day with little stimulation, make sure he has plenty of stimulation before you go. Go for a long walk or jog or play outside so he’s thoroughly pooped -- even if it means an early morning for you. “If he’s not well exercised, he’ll get bored and get into stuff,” says Dr. Miller.

Stick to the Routine

Dr. Miller’s five-and-a-half-year-old dog has had the same schedule since puppyhood and they’ve never had a problem. “In the mornings, we go out for a run, then she’s confined in the kitchen where she gets a toy that has a treat inside,” Dr. Miller says. “Later, the dog walker comes and she gets let out, and treated to another toy that I’ve filled with wet food and frozen.” Bottom line: Being consistent is key.

Follow the 8-Hour Rule

Dr. Miller recommends not leaving your pet alone for more than eight hours. You may need someone come let the dog out in the middle of the day, or figure out another way for your pup to have a break. “It’s more humane for a dog’s well-being, not to mention their bladder and bowels,” she says. And when you’re home for the evening, set aside some time for your pooch to exercise and socialize him so he’s not pining for attention while you’re away.

Amy Roberts is a New York City-based writer and editor.

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