You are undoubtedly proud of the unbreakable bond between you and your dog. You’re used to them frantically wagging their tails just because they’re happy to see you. They find they dutifully follow everywhere, as if knowing that you are safe is their only work in life. However, this close bond must be broken from time to time. You know that. Your dog probably doesn’t. Because of this, a very everyday evening with friends for you can turn into dramatic hours for your dog who doesn’t understand where you’ve gone or if you’ll ever come back.
Separation anxiety in dogs is a common problem many dog owners need to learn in order to resolve it. Find out what the symptoms are and how you can help your dog stay calm when you are away.
What is separation anxiety in dogs?
Dog separation anxiety is a condition in which dogs show signs of distress when left alone. It can affect dogs of all ages and breeds.
What are the symptoms of dog separation anxiety?
You will likely find out the hard ways your dog is afraid of being left alone – broken carpets, scratch marks on your favorite couch, and neighbors telling you about the endless howling noises your dog exposed them to while you were away.
Unfortunately, some owners think these are just signs of a mischievous dog when in reality their pet is in need and doesn’t know how to handle an empty house.
Here are some common signs of separation anxiety in dogs:
- Try to escape the house
- Damaged furniture
- Relax in the house
- Barking or howling
- Extreme excitement when the owners are back
Why do some dogs have separation anxiety?
Before we get to the solutions to dog separation anxiety, it is useful to examine the causes of such stress. These can be varied from premature abandonment to genetics.
The most common causes of separation anxiety in dogs are:
- Lack of training
- Lack of socialization
- Fears of elements or events inside or outside the home
- Changes: new home, new schedule, new family member
Is It Really Afraid of Dog Separation?
Another thing to keep in mind before starting treatment for anxiety in dogs is that you need to make sure that their behavior is correctly identified as signs of anxiety. This intense barking while you are away may be your dog’s reaction to a noisy truck driving past your house. And those chewed window sills could be a sign of acute boredom, not physical evidence of your dog’s separation anxiety.
Unfortunately, the problem with telling the difference between the two is that you’re not actually there to observe the behavior. For this reason, the first step is usually recommended to film your dog when he is alone. If they bark non-stop for the first 10 minutes after you close the door behind you, chances are they’re actually scared. On the contrary, if they bark every now and then, go to sleep, and then bark some more, the more likely they are just getting bored and looking for ways to chat by being a little loud.
Treating Anxiety In Dogs
When you are convinced that your dog is in need and not just restless, it is time to take action. Depending on how serious their condition is, these are some of the most common solutions recommended for treating separation anxiety in dogs.
1. No more long goodbyes
If you enjoy saying goodbye to your dog, with lengthy petting and excessive kissing, consider changing tactics. All this attention, abruptly withdrawn a few seconds later, means your dog is painfully realizing that he is being left alone. Instead, try to make little to no fuss about leaving or coming back. Opening or closing the front door should be a normal part of your dog’s life and not a earth-shaking event.
2. Use distractions strategically
One of the most effective treatments for anxiety in dogs has to do with keeping the mind occupied with a task and staying away from its empty nest. Try a few puzzle toys and choose the ones that your dog will finish the longest. Give it to them as a task when you’re gone.
3. Desensitize your dog to departure instructions
Putting on shoes or getting the car keys is a sure sign to your dog that you are going to do what he is most afraid of – get out the door. An effective way to keep them calm is to send mixed signals about what these cues mean. For example, you can put your shoes on but not go, get your keys but stay home, or open the door but not go out. This way, your dog won’t panic just because you walk to the front door or because you ring the keys.
4. Turn on the radio
Find a radio station that has lots of talk shows and turn it on so your dog can hear it while you are away. Human voices are usually a good solution to dog separation anxiety, as it gives them the peace of mind that they are not all alone. Some dog owners even record their own voices to calm their pooch when they are in need.
5. Consider using a crate
Depending on your dog’s response to crate training, this can help with separation anxiety in dogs. Make sure your dog is okay with being restricted to one area. If he gives you permission, you can put him in his box for the duration of your absence. In some cases, the box can become their safe place, an area where they are comfortable and calm when you are not around.
Tips for preventing separation anxiety in dogs
You don’t have to wait for dog separation anxiety to become a major problem before taking action. Here are some things you can do to prevent this from happening:
Early training is essential
The sooner you step in, the easier it will be to help your dog get used to a time alone. Ideally, this training should take place during puppyhood and our detailed article about Dealing with separation anxiety in puppies is a useful resource for this. However, if you have an adult dog who has separation anxiety, you can still start gradual training. Teach them that it is okay to be alone for a minute, and then gradually increase the amount of time they spend on their own devices even when you are still around. That way, it won’t be a shock if you leave her alone for the first time.
There is no better way to keep your dog calm than by making him tired. Because of this, exercise is a good prevention tip for dog anxiety. When their stores of energy are depleted, they are more likely to take a nap than struggle against every closed door and window in the house. Use our Guide to dog sports and fitness for inspiration for a variety of dog activities.
Do not punish your dog even if you discover total chaos on your return home. As natural as it is to get angry, the act is done and your dog will not be able to undo your punishment and link it to the chewing session of his furniture half an hour ago. They will likely think this is what they deserve to welcome you back and will be even more nervous when you leave.
Don’t leave your dog alone for long
Finally, make sure you don’t leave your dog alone for too long. If you have to be away for more than 6 hours and alternative arrangements have failed (such as bringing your dog with you or being looked after by friends and family), this can also be considered Dog sitter and dog sitting.
Are medications needed to treat separation anxiety in dogs?
Medication can be recommended, but only by a veterinarian and in cases of extreme anxiety. Herbal remedies are usually a good first step, but the veterinarian may recommend stronger medications in severe cases. Always seek advice from your veterinarian before giving your dog medication and never give him pills or remedies intended for humans.
If you suspect that recent changes in the home have made your dog feel blue, find out how Help your dog deal with change.