We’ve all been there: You're headed out the door, and those puppy dog eyes lock onto yours, making you feel like the world's worst person for leaving.
So what’s the right way to say goodbye to your dog? Should you shower your pup with affection, or should you slip out the door with minimal fanfare?
Your goodbye routine can set the stage for a relaxed time alone or a stressful experience as they anxiously await your return. And to make matters more complicated, there’s no one right way to say farewell; it depends on the situation, and it depends on the dog.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make your departures less stressful for both you and your pup.
Goodbye Drama: Yes or No?
It’s actually quite important for your dog to get used to your departures. Do it right, and you could be in for a lifetime of peaceful partings.
But as it turns out, doing it right is…complicated.
If you just seek out the longstanding conventional wisdom, you might conclude that dog parents should always favor low-key goodbyes. The reasoning goes like this: Prolonged, emotional farewells can heighten a dog’s awareness that you’re leaving; they’ll be anxious while you’re gone, and they’ll associate your departures with emotional trauma. This could be especially important for puppies, who are still learning how to process the world around them.
In truth, some recent studies have painted a more nuanced picture. The research suggests that a friendly goodbye might not be the emotional trigger we once thought it was, at least not for most dogs. In fact, an undramatic departure may ONLY be best for dogs who are already suffering from separation anxiety.
According to findings from Texas Tech University and the University of Pisa, a departing coo or cuddle could actually have a calming effect on a dog who isn’t the anxious type. This isn’t to say that you should go dog-wild with belly rubs and baby talk. But petting them and gently saying goodbye might actually leave them in a more peaceful frame of mind than simply slipping out the door.
Puppyhood and the Roots of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety often starts in puppyhood. It’s crucial to help your pup develop a healthy emotional response to those moments when you leave home.
If your new furry family member is already displaying signs of full-blown separation anxiety—like pacing, excessive barking or whining, or destructive behaviors — a calm and quick exit is ideal. But if your pup is the happy-go-lucky type, they might actually become MORE anxious if you leave home without acknowledging them.
And then there are those pups who occupy something of a gray area—somewhat anxious but not at the point of severe separation anxiety. These cases require a keen eye and a sensitive approach; just feel out the situation, get a sense of how they react to things, and tailor your goodbyes accordingly.
Ultimately, if you don’t want your departures to be a stressful experience, your best bet is to prevent separation anxiety from developing in the first place. Apart from well-considered departure routines, there are numerous ways to accomplish this:
Gradual Desensitization: Start by leaving your dog alone for short periods, then gradually increase the time you’re away.
Positive Association: Offer them treats or toys when you leave. This helps your dog associate your departure with positive experiences.
Teaching Commands: When you undertake basic puppy training, be sure to teach your pup "stay" and "quiet" commands. Use these to encourage calm behavior; they may stay peaceful even when you're not around.
Exercise and Mental Stimulation: A tired, mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog, and happy dogs often stay calm when you’re gone.
Create a Safe Space: Create a comfortable area where your dog can relax. This could include a crate or a specific room with their bed and toys
Socialization: Socializing your puppy is incredibly important. Expose them to different environments, people, and other animals. This helps them build confidence and reduces their anxiety.
Trial Runs: Practice leaving and coming back several times before actually going out for an extended period.
So try your hardest to stop separation anxiety before it starts. Training an already-anxious dog is much more difficult than training a puppy to be calm and well-adjusted. And let’s be honest: silently sneaking out of your own home every day is not nearly as fun as petting your dog on your way out the door.
Other Factors That Affect Goodbyes
Each goodbye is unique, and there are several factors that can influence how your puppy or adult dog reacts to your departure.
Length of Time Away: A quick trip to the grocery store isn't the same as a week-long vacation. Even for a happy, well-adjusted dog, a no-fuss goodbye might suffice for a short-term absence. Longer separations might necessitate a longer, more personal farewell.
Your Daily Routine: Dogs are creatures of habit. A consistent daily routine, including feeding, walking, and playtimes, can help your pup feel secure even when you're not around. Try to maintain these routines as much as possible, even when your schedule changes. Consistency is key to helping your dog understand that you'll always be coming back to keep the good times rolling.
Your Emotional State: Dogs are excellent at sensing human emotions. If you're anxious or overly emotional during your goodbyes, your dog might pick up on these vibes. A calm, composed farewell can go a long way toward keeping your dog relaxed.
Saying Goodbye: Parting Thoughts
Every dog is different! When it comes to the art of saying goodbye, it’s tough to boil things down to a list of basic guidelines.
But doggone it, let’s try:
The Swift Farewell for Anxious Dogs
If your dog is already showing signs of separation anxiety—think excessive barking, pacing, or destructive behavior—a quick and calm exit is your best bet. A brief pat and a soothing “be back soon” may not be too excessive. But then again, walking out the door without saying a word might be even better. It all depends on how severe your dog’s anxiety is.
Enthusiastic Goodbyes for Happy-Go-Lucky Pups
For dogs who are generally relaxed and easy-going, a reward-based approach can work wonders. A treat or toy not only serves as a distraction but also creates positive emotions around your leaving. (Hopefully not TOO positive.)
For Longer Absences
If you're planning an extended trip, the approach should be tailored to your dog's disposition. For anxious dogs, keep it low-key, but perhaps leave behind an item of your clothing for comfort. For more relaxed dogs, a longer cuddle or play session shortly before you leave—followed by some petting and kind words on your way out the door—can set a positive tone for your absence.
Gray Area? Read the Room
Ah, the pups that keep us guessing! These dogs are somewhat anxious but haven't tipped into full-blown separation anxiety. The key here is to be observant and flexible.
Read your dog's body language closely. If they seem a bit anxious, keep the goodbye brief but reassuring. If they appear more relaxed, a little extra affection might be just what they need. Over time, you’ll get a good sense of what’s working and what isn’t.
How Pet Insurance Can Help
Pet insurance doesn’t cover behavioral therapies, but it’s worth noting that prolonged stress and anxiety can contribute to physical health problems. ManyPets dog insurance can help you stay prepared for unexpected medical costs, giving you one less thing to worry about when you say goodbye for the day.