My rescue dog can't be left alone
(Q) I’m currently looking after a rescue dog, who lived with her previous owner for six years. In her old home she was allowed to sleep on the bed at night and during the day, while her owner was at work. Now if she’s ever left alone for a few minutes she scratches the door and cries.
(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: Changing a dog’s routine can take considerable time. Your rescue dog has lost everything that was familiar to her and so now when she is alone she will feel vulnerable and stressed. Previously she might have been coping because she had access to the bedroom where she was comfortable and surrounded by her owner’s scent. You will need to spend time allowing your dog to settle in, making sure that she feels safe in the area you’ve chosen for her to remain in.
The dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) products will help her view the area as safe but they probably won’t provide the entire solution. Sometimes our insistence that a dog immediately moves into another area at night is simply too much for them to cope with. Some do much better if they can be brought upstairs at first, sleeping in their own bed or crate, which can be gradually moved out once they have settled in.
Ensure that your dog feels safe and that she has a coping strategy to allow her to deal with being left alone. Make sure there’s nothing causing your dog to feel anxious when she’s alone, as environmental stressors, such as scary noises, can reduce her feeling of security.
Create a safe, cosy den area and teach her to use it during the day. Encourage her to use it even when you’re home so that it’s not only associated with being left alone. Hide treats and stuffed Kong toys in this den. Make sure you don’t make a big deal of hellos and goodbyes, and try not to encourage any clingy behaviour if she tries to follow you about.
Separation anxiety is a particularly traumatic problem and can require a lot of time and patience to overcome. Personalised specialist advice would help to ensure that a new routine suitable for your dog is established and to allow you to get on with enjoying your time with her.