A Guide To Separation Anxiety In Dogs
You return home after a hard day at work, or a busy trip to the store, to find that your darling dog has chewed up your curtains, used your favorite vase as a lavatory, and dug a hole in your couch. Does this nightmare sound familiar? As you stand and survey the damage, you may attribute these destructive behaviors to a disruptive, badly-behaved pooch. Most dogs need to let off some steam while they are still learning your rules, right? While it’s true that there may be some unexpected, unwanted behavior before your dog understands your ground rules, sometime there are underlying issues. A condition called separation anxiety, suffered by many dogs, can mean that these incidents are not always fixable with some house training. If your dog is showing other compulsive behaviors such as displays of nervousness as you prepare to leave the house and excessive barking while you leave, it is likely they are in fact suffering from separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety in dogs is a condition that affects all breeds – particularly if they have been subject to neglect or are inexperienced with life in a family home, having lived in animal shelters in the past. Dogs are pack animals with sociable natures. It is not understood why separation anxiety affects some dogs and not others, but it is thought to occur when a dog becomes hyper-attached to its owner. This can lead to them showing feelings of anxiety when left alone. When anxiety is left untreated it can manifest itself as aggressive behaviors, which is why treating the cause early is vital.
It can be difficult to know whether your dog just loves being around their favorite humans, or if they are in fact suffering from separation anxiety. If they continue to display signs of distress after the first few times they are left alone, it’s time to investigate. Learning to spot the signs of separation anxiety is crucial. It is important to treat the condition as early as possible as symptoms tend to get worse without behavior modification treatment.
The first thing to do is understand how your dog is behaving when alone. To get an insight into what your dog is getting up to when you are out of the house, set up a video camera in the space where they spend most of their time. If your dog is exhibiting the following behaviors, it is likely they are distressed. The following are all signs of separation anxiety in dogs.
Common symptoms of dog separation anxiety
Urinating and defecating
If your dog is toilet trained and proudly shows off their polite behavior when you are around but treats your house like one big litter tray once you have left the house, they could well be suffering from separation anxiety. If your dog takes any medication, it is a good idea to check with your vet whether this could be affecting their toilet habits.
Destructive chewing, digging, and destroying
These displays of destructive behavior can be very dangerous, resulting in broken teeth and nails, and cut and bleeding paws. You may find that your dog is chewing on furniture, door frames, and other household objects out of fear of being left alone.
The type of barking and howling caused by dog separation anxiety is continued and seemingly unnecessary. If there appears to be no other reason for barking, your dog's anxiety likely to be caused by the distress of being alone.
Dogs suffering from anxiety tend to want to break out of the home when left alone. If your dog usually understands the boundaries of your home and outdoor space but attempts to escape when you are out of the house, it is likely due to separation anxiety. Even if your pooch doesn’t manage to get away, escape attempts made by dogs with separation anxiety could result in self-injury such as scraped paws and chipped teeth.
Realising that your beloved dog is so upset at you leaving the house can cause immense feelings of guilt. It is only natural to feel bad, but there are ways that you can manage dog separation anxiety to give yourself and your pup a healthy routine.
Risk factors that can cause a dog's separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can affect dogs of any age, so it is important to train the from a young age to feel confident and relaxed when alone. Unfortunately, there are events and instances that can put dogs at risk of developing separation anxiety. These may be:
• Dogs being left alone for the first time
• A change in dog owners
• Dogs moving from animal shelters to a forever home
• A change in family routine
• A house move
• Loss of a family member
In some cases, dogs develop separation anxiety for no apparent reason – having not gone through any major events. This can make it difficult for dog owners to spot the signs as you believe your pup to be happy and healthy. Whatever their background, it is important that you know how to spot signs that your dog is not coping well with being alone.
It can be very disheartening to know that your precious dog is suffering. Thankfully, there are many ways to build confidence in dogs with separation anxiety. Firstly, you should take a trip to the vet to establish if your dog’s behavior is in fact due to separation anxiety and indicative of medical problems. If the separation anxiety symptoms are mild and not causing your dog or property too much distress, there are steps you can take to reassure your dog that they are perfectly fine on their own and that you will be returning for lots of licks and cuddles. To find the best solution for both you and your pooch, it is recommended that you try out several methods while your dog learns that your absence is temporary. You could even combine approaches for the best chance of successful treatment. It might not be an easy journey but getting your dog on the road to health and happiness is sure worth the effort.
1) Associate your absence with special goodies
As you get ready to leave, give your dog a mentally stimulating toy that holds high value foods inside. This could be something that keeps them occupied with the promise of something delicious at the end, such as a ball of tasty treats or a puzzle toy stuffed with peanut butter.
Dogs love toys that keep them busy, so they are sure to enjoy a healthy distraction that also helps them overcome feelings of nervousness. In addition, it will encourage them to associate the act of you exiting the house with treats and positivity, rather than the prospect of being left alone forever. Make sure that you only give your dog this particular treat when you are gone and take it away when you return home. This kind of positive reinforcement will help your dog accept that you will soon be back to swap the designated food stuffed toy with something equally as fun!
2) Make a low-key departure and return
Any dog owner will know their four-legged companions are the best friends we could wish for. This is true even when they are running rings around us! So it is only natural to want to make a huge fuss of them as you leave and come back to the house. While there is nothing cuter than the sound of paws tip-tapping to the front door as you turn your key, your dog may be getting overwhelmed by grand gestures. To remedy this, aim to make your entering and exiting low-key with minimal greeting.
If your dog jumps up at you as you return home:
Jumping up at you is your dog’s way of asserting dominance. Avoid eye contact as well as physical contact as this will reduce their dominant behavior. As tough as it sounds, ignoring your dog for at least five minutes after you get home could help them to settle down and suppress nervousness. Dog behaviorists recommend that when you enter the door, you turn your back and stand straight. If your dog tends to jump up, refrain from pushing them away or telling them to get down and instead stand still and silent.
Wait for your dog to calm down and sit or stand with four feet on the ground, and then reward them with a quiet, gentle pat on the head.
If your dog exhibits submissive urination when you return home:
Behavior problems such as urinating and defecating in areas they know are forbidden is a sign that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. If when you arrive home, your dog tends to show this behavior rather than jumping up, ignoring them is again the suggested approach. Refrain from making direct eye contact with your dog to prevent then from feeling intimidated. The first thing you should do when coming home is go about your own business: put your belongings down; take off your shoes and coat. After a few minutes, bend down to your dog’s level. This will avoid them being afraid of your perceived dominance.
It is important to allow your dog to see that your departure and arrival is a normal part of the day and not something that needs worrying about. In whichever way your dog presents signs of separation anxiety, these approaches can be a great way to manage the condition.
3) Gift your dog the scent of you
The reason your dog is distressed when you leave is because they miss their favorite thing: YOU! While it’s not feasible for you to stay home all the time, there is a way your dog can always have a part of you near. Leave out some clothes that you have recently worn and therefore smell like you. Dogs have a far more advanced sense of smell than humans – a trait that allows them to communicate, interpret, and sniff out treats from miles away!
Us humans have strong memories attached to scents. They help us remember the time we first inhaled the waft of our now-favorite perfume, the character of that special scrumptious homecooked meal, and the smell of freshly-brewed coffee of a lazy Sunday morning. Now, imagine a sense of smell forty times stronger than yours and sit in amazement at the wonder of dogs' incredible olfactory abilities! If you have ever returned from a day out of the house to be greeted by your dog’s inquisitive nose as they examine what exciting scents you have picked up, you will know how much scents mean to them. Enjoying a good sniff of your outfit is an exercise in mental stimulation for dogs. It provides them with a whole host of information: where you went, who you met, what you ate, and how you feel. Giving your dog an item of clothing that smells like you is a great way to leave a part of your presence with them. Even if you can’t identify that you leave on the fabric, your dog definitely will! This can offer some comfort to your dog as they will be reassured that you are never far away. Just make sure to not give them your favorite jumper or designer scarf to avoid any wardrobe mishaps!
4) Try out a dog sitter or dog walker to keep your pup company
If you are required to spend a large chunk of time each day out of the house, it can be difficult to properly manage your dog’s anxiety. Highly anxious dogs see people or other dogs as a comfort blanket that keeps them safe. Unfortunately, an owner’s absence can increase behavior problems in dogs. Increasing the amount of time that your dog spends around people can be a great behavior modification tool that reduces undesirable behaviors. A dog walker or sitter – ideally one with experience of working with dogs that have anxiety related problems – can keep your mentally tired dog busy.
If you feel that your dog would benefit from being around other pups, enrolling them into a doggy daycare can help reduce separation related behaviors. Most dogs that live in a single-pet household miss the company of other animals. Letting your dog play with their canine friends can be helpful in treating separation anxiety.
5) Try out natural remedies
Helping your dog to feel calm is key to overcoming separation anxiety. Just like humans, dogs can benefit from natural calming supplements. They are considered to be useful by many veterinarians and could be an easy way to alleviate your dog’s anxiety. It is recommended you consult your veterinarian for advice on suitable supplements that fit into your treatment process.
An excellent solution to your pup’s frantic behavior is a Calming Bed. In the same way that you may have a favorite blanket that helps some of your trivial worries melt away, a Calming Dog Bed can provide a sanctuary for your four-legged friend. These beds replicate the warmth and safety that they felt as a new-born puppy ensconced in the security of their siblings. Dogs love comfort, and this first exposure to a cosy environment is a memory they carry with them for life. You can replicate this safe space with a Calming Dog Bed. It has to be noted that as with our own mattresses and pillows, these beds are not all created equal. There are certain features that make the perfect haven for your dog. The Calming Dog Bed you choose should have:
• Faux fur that is soft, short, and fluffy. It is this velvety texture that replicates for dogs the feeling of sleeping next to their brothers and sisters
• A raised rim to offer your dog a sense of security
• An inner lining made of premium materials, designed for luxurious lounging
• Machine washable fabric – to rinse away those dog hairs and muddy pawprints!
As well as providing a sense of security to your pup, Calming Dog Beds can help relieve muscle and joint pain, making them an ideal bed for older dogs.
The great thing about Calming Dog Beds is that they are available in a range of sizes to provide your pup with the perfect safe space.
6) Try out crate training
Providing your dog with their own crate could encourage them to retreat to a safe haven when alone, saving their nerves and your sanity! You could combine this remedy with some of the others, such as furnishing the crate with a super soft Calming Dog Bed and an item of clothing that bears your scent.
Crate training is thought to be an effective way to manage separation anxiety in dogs, as long as it is done correctly and used as one step of a treatment plan. Training really is the key concept here, as it is not enough to just purchase a crate and expect your dog to understand how to feel. With some careful coaching, a crate can help to create a positive behavior change.
As much as dogs love to run around, the pointless pacing of the floor that often accompanies separation anxiety is not healthy. This kind of nervous movement can lead to your anxious dog feeling even more stressed. The boundaries of a crate provide a restricted space – one that is full of their favorite toys and calming bedding. Include some puzzles that provide physical and mental stimulation and some appropriate chew items to provide a distraction when needed. This positive environment is somewhere that can help to eliminate your pooch’s urge to wander aimlessly until you return. Once they have formed a connection with this sanctuary, it can also be a place they retreat to when they want to stay away from loud noises, such as fireworks.
To make the crate a familiar place to your dog, let them spend time in there while you are home. Be sure to start with short periods and gradually increase crate time. After a few weeks, your dog will come to realise that this personal den is somewhere they can feel relaxed regardless of whether their owner is home. Being gentle and understanding with your dog while they get used to the crate is key but do bear in mind that some dogs may not feel comfortable around them. If your pup is scared of crates, you should not force it upon them as this is likely to increase your dog's anxiety. An alternative to using crates is to encourage your dog to spend time in an exercise pen or small room, as they will also provide a reduced space where your pooch can feel protected and secure.
7) Test out medication to relieve symptoms
You may be reluctant to start your dog on medication treatment, but studies show that prescription drugs can reduce separation anxiety in dogs much the same way as it can humans. If your dog is suffering from moderate to severe cases of anxiety, medications such as Prozac and Xanax can be administered alongside the behavior-modification training mentioned above.
8) Seek advice from other pet owners
Separation anxiety in dogs is a very common condition but dealing with it can feel very isolating and overwhelming. Meeting up with fellow dog owners for a puppy playdate can allow you to share experiences and tips on how best to treat dogs with separation anxiety. As well as being a way for you to socialize and get support, those dogs with too much excess energy will get a brilliant workout!
Treatment is the key to changing your dog's behavior
Dealing with separation anxiety can be extremely difficult. The most important thing is that you recognize the signs and seek help. As we have outlined, there are ways to You can effectively retrain your dog’s mind to trust the fact that their favorite person is not too far away!
There is sadly no magic wand you can wave to alleviate your dog’s anxiety. However, with training, consistent routines, and changes in lifestyle habits, you can build your dog’s tolerance to the state of being alone.