Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Dog separation anxiety is a common problem that typically occurs when dogs become distressed after being separated from their humans. To prevent them from experiencing stress and getting themselves into potentially dangerous situations, pet parents must teach their dogs how to cope with alone time.
CAUSES OF DOG SEPARATION ANXIETY
Although no one can say for sure what causes a dog to suffer from separation anxiety, some factors may include:
- Absence of a family member
- Change in owner
- Change in schedule
- Moving to a new house
- Newly adopted dog adjusting to his new home
DOG SEPARATION ANXIETY SYMPTOMS
Dog anxiety symptoms generally occur within 30 minutes to an hour of the owner leaving. These symptoms may include:
- Barking, whining, and/or howling
- Escaping from the house
- Excess excitement upon owners’ return
- Tearing at windows or doors
HOW TO HELP SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS
To say that there are remedies for dog anxiety may lead you to believe there’s a pill that can fix everything, but that’s not the case. Managing dog anxiety takes time and patience.
Rule Out Other Possibilities
First, you need to determine if the issue is separation anxiety or something else. For instance, if you have a young dog and come home to find puddles and piles, this breach of housetraining rules may not be related to separation anxiety. The dog may not have fully grasped housetraining, or you may have been gone longer than his smaller bladder and bowels could manage. An older, unneutered male may be marking his territory. Or your dog may have a problem that needs veterinary attention. Have your dog checked out by a veterinarian to rule out any physical problems.
Coming home to teeth marks in a chair leg or a torn apart pillow may be just puppy exuberance or teething. Puppies are curious and love to explore. Or your dog could be bored, and chewing something is a great way to pass the time. Maybe the answer is as simple as a few good chew toys.
Don’t Punish Your Dog
If your dog has separation anxiety, never punish him for any damage done while he’s alone. He’s already trying to cope with a lot of stress and won’t know what you’re angry about. Punishment will only worsen his anxiety.
Give Your Dog Enough Exercise
All dogs need daily exercise—some much more than others. If you can take your dog for a long walk or a good game of fetch just before you leave the house, chances are he’ll get out any excess energy and have an empty bladder. Combine that with a chew toy or a treat-dispensing toy and any separation anxiety may be resolved.
Adjust Your Dog’s Surroundings
If the neighbors complain that your dog barks or howls, consider your neighborhood. Does your dog have easy access to windows? What is he seeing? Are there lots of people and other dogs passing by? Are there trees full of squirrels? Your solution may be as simple as blocking access to a window or closing a shade.
Utilize Crate Training
Crating your dog may also be an answer, but be careful—for some dogs with separation anxiety, crating only makes things worse. If your dog pants, drools, seems frantic, or tries to escape the crate, then this isn’t the right solution for him. You may be able to confine your dog to just one room to limit any damage, but be prepared for chewed woodwork or holes in the linoleum.
Slowly Recondition Your Dog
If those methods don’t help, you may need to start with the basics. First, see if your dog starts to feel anxious before you leave. If there’s an action that seems to trigger the beginning of anxiety, like picking up your car keys, start your conditioning there:
- Pick up your keys.
- Put them down and do something else indoors.
- Pick up the keys and put them down again.
- Do this several times a day without leaving the house.
When your dog no longer reacts to your “going away” cues, try leaving the house. Step out, close the door, and then go back in immediately. Another method is to have your dog lie down and stay as you briefly step out of sight. Always return to your dog before he becomes anxious. Gradually lengthen the time you are out of sight. Do not rush this—take your time. You can practice these separations several times during a day, but always give your dog time to relax completely before another session.
Consider Alternative Solutions
While you’re working on reconditioning your dog, taking him to work with you may be a good option. If that’s not possible, consider doggy day care—many kennels offer daytime care. You could also hire a pet sitter to be at your home during the day or ask a trusted neighbor to take your dog into their home.
You should also talk to your veterinarian about medications that can help with separation anxiety. It may take a while, but with time, patience, and understanding, you should be able to help your dog manage his separation anxiety.