It’s cute when your dog is attached to you like velcro. They’d love to spend every moment basking in your glorious presence. But when that adorable attachment turns destructive, you might have a case of separation anxiety on your hands. And curing dog separation anxiety can be quite the task…but it’s doable.
Read on to learn more about what dog anxiety is, and how you can help your dog cope.
What is Dog Separation Anxiety?
The term separation anxiety wasn’t muttered much in the dog world until recent years. More and more dog owners have become familiar with the term, and what it means.
When fur parents return home to chewed walls, tipped garbage cans, and ripped couch cushions, they take to google to find a solution to their dog’s anxiety.
A dog with separation anxiety may not have many symptoms until you leave them alone. Your pooch may be cool, calm, and collected when you’re home, but when you leave it’s like Jaekel and Hyde. A monster emerges and your pup freaks out.
In truth, your dog is panicking. They feel trapped and want to escape to find you—desperately. Their attempts at escape can cause injury and destruction to your home, so understanding how to identify dog separation anxiety will help you protect your dog…and your throw pillows.
Why Do Some Dogs Have Separation Anxiety?
There isn’t a real science as to why some dogs get anxious over being left alone. Some believe that shelter dogs are prone due to isolation, loss, and abandonment.
With that being said, it’s important to note that dogs are pack animals, meaning they are social creatures that thrive in groups. It’s unnatural for them to be alone, in the wild or at home. So you can expect your dog to be uncomfortable when you leave, it’s just a matter of how much is too much.
In addition, dogs that were bred to be with humans, and be their helpers, are often more prone to separation anxiety…it’s just in their blood to want, and need, to spend time with you.
Lastly, if there’s been a disruption of routine or the norm, some dogs may not have the ability to cope with the changes like other breeds.
For example, if a fur parent passes away, some people-oriented breeds (like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels) may grieve and develop separation anxiety as a result.
Other separation anxiety triggers may be:
- Traumatic events, abuse, injuries, or sudden loss of loved one
- First time alone (example: if you worked at home and now leave for long periods of time)
- Routine changes (children go off to college)
- Addition or loss of family members (deaths and babies)
- Loss of another pet (their pet sibling passes away)
- Addition of a new pet
Breeds Prone to Separation Anxiety
While any dog can have separation anxiety, there are a few breeds that are more prone to getting anxiety when their beloved pet parent has left the building:
- Labrador Retriever
- German Shepherd
- Australian Shepherd
- Border Collie
- Bison Frishe
When you bring a new dog into your home, it’s important to research breed behaviors and history. The dogs listed above have been bred for certain things, which means if they cannot perform their duties, they may be more prone to anxiety.
Symptoms of Dog Separation Anxiety
The misconception about separation anxiety is that it’s obvious if a dog suffers from it. In reality, some dogs freak out and destroy everything in sight, while others experience internal symptoms that can affect their health but are not as obvious.
Let’s take a look at both kinds of behaviors:
Severe Signs of a Dog With Separation Anxiety
If your dog is a howler, the neighbors will know every time you leave. If they only bark or howl when you leave, it’s a good indication you have an anxiety sufferer.
Chewing, Scratching, Digging
If your dog is scratching at the floor, they may be trying to escape, to be closer to you. In their efforts to fly the coop, they may bite and chew at door frames. Dogs can injure themselves by chewing at things that weren’t meant for chewing.
If you’re in the process of getting ready to leave, your dog may begin pacing because their anxiety level is starting to rise. Pacing is a form of energy release and your dog has a lot of energy when their anxiety is high.
Do you have an escape artist on your hands? If your dog is going over and under fences, they are probably trying to find you.
Urinating and Defecating
Ok, so all dogs make these mistakes from time-to-time, but if it’s only when you leave, then it’s probably related to anxiety.
Even worse, if your dog eats their own excrement, it’s a red flag for anxiety, especially if they do it only when you’re gone.
Yes, some dogs with anxiety will move their crate around by flailing, digging, or even rolling it like a hamster ball. This is extremely dangerous and your dog can easily injure itself. Crate rolling is another attempt at escape.
Mild Signs of A Dog with Separation Anxiety
Trembling in dogs equals anxiety. If your dog starts getting shakey while you get ready to leave, they’re probably feeling anxious about their time alone.
Drooling & Panting
Drooling when there’s no other trigger may mean your dog is getting upset about you leaving. If it’s accompanied by panting or trembling, this could be a sign of separation anxiety…especially if you’re on your way out the door.
If your dog sees you getting ready to take off, and they become sloth-like, they may be depressed about your upcoming exit. But as long as no other severe symptoms are paired with lethargy, your dog can probably handle your absence.
These symptoms are only small indicators that a dog might have separation anxiety. They can also be indicators of other more general behavior problems or even medical problems.
For example, frequent urination may be an underlying medical cause and warrants a visit to the veterinarian.
Generally, if the poor behavior develops when you are about to leave, or while you are gone, it is a good indication that your dog is experiencing separation anxiety. With that being said, it’s never a bad idea to visit the vet to make sure there’s nothing else going on with fido.
Note: Never punish your dog for these behaviors by yelling, hitting, isolating, or scolding. Punishment only adds to the anxiety. Rather try some of the methods below.
A Note About Puppies and Separation Anxiety
If you’ve recently brought home a brand new bundle of fur, you may be coping with sleepless nights and messy kennels.
Most puppies cry at night, or when they’re left alone…and due to their inability to hold their bladder (and lack of training) they will make messes. All of this is normal, and it will be the norm until you’ve trained your pup to potty outside and accept their crate as a safe place.
In fact, puppyhood is the perfect time to create routines and encourage good behavior that will prevent separation anxiety in the future.
So, just be aware that puppies are usually pretty noisy and upset when no one is around, but with the right training, and a ton of patience, your pup should grow out of this.
Tips for Curing Dog Anxiety
The good news about dog separation anxiety is that you can cope and in some cases, “cure” it. How you treat your dog’s separation anxiety boils down to how severe their symptoms are.
So let’s take a look at a few different ways to handle anxiety:
How to treat mild dog separation anxiety
Rein in the Pomp and Circumstance
When you leave or come home, don’t get all excited and baby talk or clap your hands. In other words, stay calm like it’s no big deal that you’re coming and going. Dogs can feel your excitement and it may trigger separation anxiety.
Essential Oils and OTC Medications
There are calming collars, essential oils, and over-the-counter medications you can try with your anxious pup. But please consult a veterinarian before giving your dog any OTC drugs or essential oils.
Consider a Sitter
Instead of leaving your dog alone day after day consider a dog sitter, or walker, to treat your dog’s separation anxiety. Eventually, your dog may look forward to your absence (don’t feel bad, it’s a good thing!) and their anxiety will simply be a non-issue.
How to Train a Dog with Severe Separation Anxiety
Create a Safe Zone
When you leave, it helps to have a den for your dog to retreat to and feel safe. Often, crates are perfect little dens for your dog…and as long as your dog is well-behaved, they are safe within their crate.
Using a regular command, and praising your dog when they enter their den, will teach him that it’s ok. Here’s where pomp and circumstance is encouraged. You can make a big deal out of your dog when they’re in their crate.
Eventually, it will be their happy place.
Evaluate Your Own Routine Behavior
If your dog knows your “going-out” routine, the anxiety will be evident even before you leave the house.
For example, if you wash up, use a certain perfume, and turn off certain lights every time you leave, your dog may know that they will be spending time alone.
Desensitizing your dog to this routine can break them of the expectation that you’ll be leaving soon. So, repeat your routine when you won’t be leaving. Do it often, and eventually, your dog will stop associating your actions with being left alone.
Break-Up With Your Dog
Yes, it’s fun to have a shadow that adores you, but if your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you may need to practice a little tough love.
Start with training your dog to sit and stay (training builds confidence and gives you some 1:1 time). Then, train your pup to stay in a room without you instead of being with you 24/7.
Go about your day like this, but return to your dog periodically to prove to them that you’ll be coming back.
Alone time can be a good exercise for your dog, and if they know you’ll be returning soon, they’ll become comfortable with their private time.
Add treats to the mix and pretty soon alone time is something to look forward to.
The more you practice alone time, the longer you can stay away from your pup without anxiety overwhelming them.
Eventually, you can start to leave the house for a short time, and then return. Your coming and going eventually becomes boring to them and anxiety is a thing of the past.
Fool-Proof Cure for Separation Anxiety
If your dog is a special case, or you’re unable to help them with their anxiety, the best solution is to hire a trustworthy dog sitter to care for them while you’re away. When your beloved pooch is in the care of a professional, you’ll have peace of mind knowing they are safe and having fun.