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Separation Anxiety

Leaving a Chihuahua Home Alone and Separation Anxiety

Overview

Most Chihuahua owners can not be home all the time and as you know it is not possible to bring your Chi everywhere with you (even though many are happy to be in carrier-sling while an owner run errands). There will be times when you will need to leave your Chihuahua on his own.

This can be a disaster or it can be a great way for you to train your dog how to handle being alone. The many elements that owners worry about are:

1) Safety

2) Negative behavioral issues such as barking and destructive chewing

3) Separation Anxiety
Isolated Chihuahua dog

Overnight

Before we discuss the best steps to take when leaving your Chihuahua home alone for the day, let's take a look at over-nights. If it will be a matter of being home during the day and leaving only during the nighttime hours, to return the next morning, this should be fine as long as guidelines and safety rules will be followed.

However, anything that comes close to a 24 hour period is simply much too long for any puppy or dog to handle. 
Therefore, if you will be going away for a full day and night, it will be best if your Chihuahua is under the care of a friend or family member. If that is not possible, your Chihuahua would fair better at a canine hotel service than alone for an extended amount of time.

There are doggie hotels that offer a nice and comfortable experience for pets. Many find this a great alternative to a standard kenneling service.  

How Long a Chihuahua Can be Home Alone

For those who need to work- and most of us do- it can be daunting to think about leaving a Chihuahua home alone all day. We worry about the things that can go wrong, if barking will disturb the neighbors and just as importantly- if our Chihuahua will experience. the stress of being alone.

While a dog may feel the strain of isolation in a very short amount of time, in regard to safety a puppy or dog - if set up properly - can be alone for 8 to 9 hours.

Even with water and food, a dog would be at risk for possible dangers if home alone for more than the 8 to 9 hours. Examples of the possible dangers would be:

1) The dog's water supply may run out

2) In the winter, a blackout may cause the heat to shut off

3) In the summer, loss of electricity may cause air conditioning to cut out
Variables

There are some variables that will make even this 8 to 9 hours much too long of a time. Some instances where you will not want to be gone for more than 3 to 4 hours are:

Chihuahuas at high risk for hypoglycemia - This would include very young puppies (under the age of 4 months old) or an undersized Chihuahua is not able to regulate body temperature very well or has trouble eating on a consistent basis. Since this breed is already prone to this health problem, leaving an at-risk Chihuahua on his own for the day would be dangerous for the puppy.
Ill or injured dogs - If a Chihuahua is sick or is recovering from an injury, most likely he will need special care, including prescribed dosing of medication. Having someone to provide timely care is particularly important for puppies and senior Chihuahua dogs.
Gypsy | Owner: Jessica Lopez | 3 months old

Separation Anxiety

Chihuahuas with Separation Anxiety will experience stress when left alone. The anxiety and stress of the situation will mount as the dog's fears build to a disproportionate level. There will be a boiling point at which time the dog will act out - often with very little control.

Some Chihuahua dogs are so sensitive, they will exhibit these behaviors within moments of an owner leaving. with others, it will gradually build as the day goes on.

This may manifest in several different ways:

Barking - A dog may bark relentlessly, often to the point of wearing himself out

Destructive chewing - The dog may rip and tear apart any object or material within his reach  
Crying and whining - A dog can feel incredibly sad when alone, leading him to whine and cry for hours. This is particularly true for young puppies, but a Chihuahua of any age can react this way. 
Trying to escape - The Chihuahua may claw and dig relentlessly, even if in escape-proof area. Though owners should be aware that when a dog is under great duress, he may jump over a gate or escape from what appeared to be an enclosed, safe area.

Agitation and behavioral stresses - A Chihuahua may have severe anxiety that causes an elevated heart-rate, agitated behavior. While the majority of dogs will have high energy levels, often pacing back and forth, there are some that will do the opposite and become very depressed.

How This Affects Owners

While a dog is struggling with Separation Anxiety, owners are feeling the effects as well. Owners feel torn; they must leave the house to work or handle other duties yet they know that this places their Chihuahua in a terribly, fearful situation. Many owners find it hard to concentrate once they arrive at work; as they worry throughout day about how their dog is handling being home alone. It can cause humans to feel as helpless as they imagine their dogs do.

Dogs are very sensitive to how owners are feeling. They can pick up on unspoken vibes of all sorts of emotions. Therefore, when a the human is feeling frustrated, this is picked up and only adds to the vicious cycle.

How to Help a Chihuahua Cope with Being Home Alone

There are quite a few things that you can do to help a Chihuahua puppy or dog better cope with separation anxiety. However, it is important to note that very rarely will just one of these methods or tips work on its own. It is when you combine all of these, that you will find the most success. 
#1 The right canine playpen or gating system. If a Chihuahua has a whole room to be alone in or even worse, has an entire house to roam, this can really exacerbate the feelings of isolation.  Dogs feel much more secure when they are in a more defined area. 

This said, do not crate your Chihuahua; this is much too confining and claustrophobic; it will just increase a dog's stress levels. 

So, you will want to use the right canine playpen (or use gates to block off a smaller area) to provide a feeling of security and safety.

This also has other benefits such as keeping a Chihuahua's items all in one spot (very important, since those items will all work together to help him cope) and it limits where he goes to the bathroom. 

You can read more about choosing the best playpen for a Chihuahua or see our top recommendations here: 
#2 The right toys. What you place within the pen plays a huge role in how well your Chihuahua will do. There are 3 types of great toys that all help in a their own way.

1) Treat release - These are excellent, as they keep a puppy or dog very busy as they work to release treats. If you will be gone at a time when your Chihuahua would be having a meal, instead of placing his food in a bowl, place it in this sort of toy instead. 

2) To fix boredom & engage - When a dog is entertained, he is far less likely to focus on that fact that he's alone. But, when a dog is feeling sad and lonely, he often does not start playing with toys. He needs a nudge. How can that be accomplished? With toys that call out to him.
 
Look for toys that speak or make noises, and this will offer him motivation to engage and will better hold his interest. 

3) Companion - When you look at the problem of being home alone, at the very root is the simple issue that the dog truly is alone. Therefore, if you can offer something that functions as an actual companion for a dog, this is a huge part of helping to fix the issue at its very core. 

The best method that we've found for this is to offer a companion toy that does two things; emits a soothing heartbeat and, optionally, sends out a comforting warmth. These two elements are as close to another living creature than you can get and this works exceedingly well (when used in conjunction with these other methods) to make a pup or dog feel better. 

Please note that your Chihuahua may not 'take' to the toys listed here when you are within view. That is because he does not need them at that time. It is when you leave that he will seek out these support items. 

You can always sneak back to peek at him through a window or set up a video monitoring system to confirm that he is seeking solace with the items that you have for him within his playpen. 

You can read more about choosing the right toys for a Chihuahua or look here for our top recommendations to help with separation anxiety:
#3 Helpful sounds. Think about a big empty house. One of the worst things about this is the fact that it's so quiet. In fact, it's so darn silent that it screams, 'You are alone!'. Dogs love hearing their humans and are used to all the background noises that are around when their humans are home.

So, suddenly trying to cope with a quiet house can be quite unsettling. You can opt to have the TV or radio playing. And if you choose this method, be sure that you choose a pleasant channel or easy-listening station. However, you cannot control any commercials, and those can be a bit disturbing. 

For full control over what your Chihuahua hears when home alone, a really great method is to stream or play music that is specifically made for a dog's ears. 

There are some fantastic options that are happy songs or a mix of songs and speech that can calm a dog and make him feel as if he has some company. 

Here are some popular home alone music for dogs:
#4 Environmental changes. There are also several other things that help to create a pleasant and more comforting environment:
  • Temperature check. Be sure that your Chihuahua's area is not too close to either the heat or the AC units and that there are no drafts (get down on his level to check for this).
  • Assess if bright sunshine is shining into his spot. If you are not normally home at 12 noon, you may not know if bright sunlight is glaring into his eyes when you're gone. So do be sure that his playpen is situated where this does not happen.
  • Experiment with a window versus a non-window view. Some dogs like to be able to take a peek outside but for others this can trigger quite a bit of barking. See which one he does best with and close or adjust shades and curtains accordingly. 
  • Leave on a light. Cloudy weather can roll in or you may arrive home as dusk is approaching. Either way, if a dog is alone and darkness is approaching, this can add to his nervousness. Unless it is going to be fully light out the entire time you are gone and you are 100% sure that no bad weather will be coming in, do leave on the lights. 
#5 The right bed. Having the right bed is a huge element in helping a dog be home alone. It does not matter if he sleeps in your bed at night. And it does not matter if he seems to love lying on the floor. When a dog is home by himself, having a supportive, warm bed to cuddle up on and having the right support gives him the feeling of having a 'den', which is always seen as a safety feature in a dog's mind. 

Most small Chihuahua do best with a small, bolstered canine bed. We recommend memory foam for the padded bottom.

Read more about choosing the best bed for a Chihuahua or have a look at our top recommendations:
#5 Basic necessities. Aside from these methods listed to help with separation anxiety, you will of course, need to also have other basic items in his area. This includes food (if you feel that you will be gone longer than what the treat release toy will provide for food), water (leave more than you think your Chihuahua needs) and pee pads.

Even if the goal is to have your Chihuahua go to the bathroom in a designated outdoor area, depending on the age of your Chihuahua, holding his needs while you are away from home may not be possible. Even the most well trained dogs can only hold on so long.

Since you will have your Chihuahua in one defined spot, think of this as being in 4 sections (with invisible lines). There is the area for the bed, one for toys, one for bowls and there's only one left. Since a dog will not often soil on his belongings, the fourth area should be lined with pee pads. If your Chihuahua needs to relieve himself, most likely this will be done on the pads, thus limiting the mess. 

Preparing to Leave

Once you have your Chihuahua entire set-up prepared, implementing all of the above methods, you can then start to train him to better accept being home alone. This is a bit tricky, since you may very well be leaving him alone in the same week that you are training him. However, the basis of this training is to show a dog:
  • That being in his area is not a bad thing 
  • And to not perceive you leaving as a dramatic event
The timing and the method in which owners say goodbye for the day will have an impact on how a dog perceives the event. Here are some great tips:

1) It is best that a Chihuahua does not associate that being placed in his area = being home alone. For this reason, during times that you are home with your dog, leave the door to the pen open, allowing your Chi to come and go as he pleases. Be sure that is has some of his favorite toys inside.

2) On days that you will be leaving, approximately 30 minutes before it is time to go, bring your Chihuahua outside for bathroom needs and allow him 15 - 20 minutes to exercise (either by going for a walk or having him run around in the yard) to release some energy.  Then, 10 to 15 minutes before heading out, place your Chi in his area.

3) Although it may be tremendously tempting to hug, kiss and give lots of attention to your Chihuahua right before you leave the house, it is best for both of you if you do not.

Displaying large acts of affection sends a message that your departure is a major event. This can cause anxiety to set in even before you actually leave the house. It is best to act very composed when you are getting ready to go. Move about in a matter-of-fact manner. Do not announce your impending departure. With your dog safe in his area, with all appropriate needed items, quietly leave.
Plan your arrival approach. As mentioned above, leaving should be a calm event in which an owner behaves as if it is "no big deal", however arriving back home should be planned out for dogs that suffer from separation stress. Some dogs will work themselves up into a frenzy as soon as they hear their owners car pull up to the driveway. 

As the front door opens, the dog may have little control. Helping a Chihuahua cope with being home alone will include teaching him to control his behavior both before and afterward.

If an owner rushes over to a dog as soon as arriving back home, this gives confirmation to a dog that thought being alone was the worst thing in the world. Unless it is clear that an immediate trip outside is needed, it can help to enter and not approach or speak to a puppy or dog for 4 to 5 minutes. 

Casually checking the mail, getting a drink of water, straightening off the kitchen table, etc. and then calming approaching a dog can give the message that leaving and arriving was an acceptable part of daily life.

Gradually desensitizing a dog to your absence can work with some dogs.

This is best done on weekends or other days on which the dog has not endure a bout of Separation Anxiety. This method involves leaving for short amounts of time that the dog can handle. For some this many be 5 minutes, for others a full hour. With all chew, teething, treat and cuddle toys in place and the dog in his designated area, the owner calmly departs.

While it may be tempting to stand by the front door, for some Chihuahuas, it is the sound of the car's engine that triggers the fear of isolation. An owner may circle the block or park down the street to quietly walk back and spy on how things are going.

Once it has been established that a dog does alright for a certain amount of time, the owner then adds on 5 to 10 minutes to that set time. Arrival back home should be as described earlier, without a lot a big fuss and a delayed greeting.

In this way, a Chihuahua can slowly gain self-confidence. When a dog realizes that all is fine during short duration, he can often handle incrementally longer periods without stress or fear settling in.

Other Possible Aids

Calming Collars - These have been found to help for some puppies and dogs. These are an over-the-counter accessory that uses pheromone technology. 

These have mixed reviews and the ones that seem to work best use a lavender and chamomile fragrance that does calm down some dogs. The most highly ranked collar is by Sentry and can be adjusted to fit toy sized dogs. The price is relatively inexpensive and these can be found in a 3-pack, with each collar lasting 30 days.

Supplements and Treats for Separation Anxiety - Specialized treats - especially those with colostrum calming Complex, L Theanine, and Thiamine (Vitamin B1) have been found to help some dogs calm down and relax without interfering with cognitive ability or changing the dog's core behavior. They are said to promote relaxation and calm irritability.
When All Else Fails 

1) Prescribed Medication. There are some dogs that will not be able to handle being alone, no matter what the method or techniques used to train him. For these dogs, medication may be prescribed. Personally, we do not recommend these, as the side effects are not worth the benefits in all but the most severe cases.

This is something that should be discussed with the veterinarian. These are only appropriate for dogs that have had little to no improvement with at-home training methods and are suffering from high levels of stress. The two types of medication used for Separation Anxiety in Chihuahuas are:
Benzodiazepines - These have some negative side effects including sleepiness, increased appetite and possibility of increased anxiety.

Studies have found that these can interfere with memory and the ability to learn.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors - Originally used to treat cognitive dysfunction in canines, some MAOIs can have dangerous side effects in dogs that have recently ingested cheese products.

2) Personal Training. Not available in all areas, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist may be able to help a dog via one-on-one desensitization and conditioning training. This can tend to be expensive but has worked with some dogs.
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