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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.
The Best Set-up When Leaving Your Chihuahua Home Alone

When the right environment is provided, this not only keeps a puppy or dog safe, it also offers a comfortable setting that can cut down on stress levels an anxiety. It can also reduce barking and destructive chewing that may otherwise take place.

Here are some great tips for puppies:

1) Do not crate a Chihuahua.

Crates can serve a purpose at night for a puppy that is not yet trained. However, during daytime, waking hours, spending the day in a small crate creates a very stressful environment for a dog. In such a confined, closed space with little room to move - and certainly no room to stretch muscles and play - a Chihuahua will soon feel the effects.

2) Use gates or a canine playpen.

Gates are a great option because they can be arranged differently as the dog matures and proves that he can handle more space when home alone. In addition, they can be tucked away when not in use. 
Chihuahua home alone
Bebe | Owner: Lucy Rodriquez | 7 months old
They can be set up over a tiled or linoleum floor to cut down on possible messes (both food and bathroom messes) that may otherwise occur on carpeting.

A canine playpen is another good option. These are often portable and can offer enough size for all needed essentials that a Chihuahua will need.
3) Offer all essential items.

Whether you choose to keep your Chihuahua in a pen or within a gated area, you will want to make sure that the puppy or dog has all that he needs. This includes:

- Food. If you will be gone during a meal time, be sure to leave a non-skid bowl of fresh food. Additionally or alternatively, toys that hold treats can serve two purposes - feeding and relieving boredom.

- Water. It is best to obtain a water dispenser as a bowl - even a non-skid one - can be tipped over or splashed out.
- Toys. It cannot be overstated how important a good supply of toys will be. They will serve as teething aids, entertainment, will satisfy chewing urges and will keep a dog distracted. The right type of toys can also help with Separation Anxiety (more ahead).

- Resting spot. A quality dog bed is recommended. If one has not yet been obtained, a soft baby blanket can serve in its place.
- Pee pads. When you are house training a puppy, you will want to bring him to the outside designated area as often as possible. However, when home alone, placing down pee pads in the opposite corner where the bed and food is placed will give the puppy an opportunity to use them.

While there will be hits and misses, the important element to keep in mind is that as a puppy matures, he will be able to hold his needs for longer and longer periods of time. As long as an owner consistently housebreaks a puppy at all other times, the puppy will not be confused about pee pads. The 4 month old that sometimes hit and sometimes missed the pads, will be the 8 month old that waits until his owners arrive back home and relieves himself outside.

For Fully House Trained Dogs:

A dog is considered fully housebroken when he goes 3 months without an accident. If the dog does not have any chewing issues, it is at this time that he can have (partial) reign of the home. Here are some tips:

1) You will still want to 'puppy-proof' the house, even for an older dog. Go over all areas that the dog will have access to, picking up and placing out of reach any object that is small enough to be mouthed.

2) It can be overwhelming for a Chihuahua to be alone in a large,empty home. Many feel safer and more secure in one room - the living room, for example. Gates can block off other rooms.
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  
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.

Preparing to Leave

Each time you get ready to leave the house and say goodbye to your Chihuahua, it is an occasion to gradually work toward fixing Separation Anxiety problems. 
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 gate open, allowing your Chi to come and go as he pleases. Place some interesting toys in that area, allowing him or her to wonder in and check things out.

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 (whether this be a canine playpen, gated off area or gated off room).

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.
Tips to Help a Chihuahua Cope with Separation Anxiety

Learning to self soothe will be a big part of overcoming Separation Anxiety issues. Here are some tips that may help:

Leave a radio or TV playing in the background. Do be sure that electrical cords are out of reach and that the volume is at a moderate level that will be heard but will not be overwhelming. Simply hearing some quiet background noises can be very comforting for a puppy or dog that is prone to stress due to isolation. 

Most Chihuahuas do well with easy-listening music or daytime soap operas on TV. Be sure to check the listings as to what will be airing. Talk shows with yelling often increases stress.
fawn Chihuahua puppy closeup
Ricco | Owner: Anita
Experiment with a window view - Some dogs do much better if they have a window view to see the outside world but for some, they become more agitated when seeing people, dogs and other things that they want to reach but cannot. If your Chihuahua is struggling with being home alone and seems to be stressed when you are away, it may help to try a window or window-less view, depending on the set up currently being used.

Leave a light on - 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. 

The right toys are vital. Toys filled with peanut butter or toys that hold kibble but are designed to make a dog really work to retrieve it can be incredible helpful. Many dogs will whine as an owner prepares to leave, however once the toy is 'discovered' it can keep a Chihuahua busy for hours. 

Additionally, a SnugglePet - a soft stuffed animal that emits a soothing heartbeat - has been proven to help many dogs with anxiety issues. It becomes a 'mothering' toy - both both males and females alike- and a companion that makes a dog feel that he is not truly alone. 

This and other recommended toys can be found under 'Toys - Separation Anxiety' in the Chihuahua Specialty Shoppe.

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.

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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