If you have a dog that worries as you leave the house, destroys things while you are gone, sticks to your heels as you move between rooms, goes berserk when you return, and looks at you suspiciously before you even leave, then there’s a good chance your dog has separation anxiety.
A dog with separation anxiety will exhibit behavior problems and stress if left by themselves. The following are the most common behaviors of an anxious dog:
- Destructive chewing
- Scratching and digging at doors and windows in an attempt to reunite with owners
- Barking, whining, and howling
- Urinating and defecating – particularly if they are house-trained
The Causes of Separation Anxiety
Unfortunately we don’t know just what causes some dogs to have separation anxiety while other dogs don’t. It’s important to remember that the reason your dog behaves how they do is because they are panicking. They aren’t punishing you, they just panic and want you to return to them.
The following are some of the potential triggers of separation anxiety:
- The first time they are left by themselves
- Being left by themselves after getting used to people always being around
- Going through a traumatic experience, such as being left at a shelter or boarding kennel
- A change in the structure or routine of the family, including losing family members or other pets
Treating Minor Separation Anxiety
- Avoid making a big fuss out of every departure and arrival – ignore the dog for a few minutes and then pet them calmly
- Leave the dog with some clothes you wore recently that smell like you
- Establish an action or command/word that you can use when leaving the house that lets your dog know you’ll be back soon
- Consider getting an over-the-counter product for calming your dog and reducing anxiety
Handling Severe Separation Anxiety
Use a combination of the above techniques and desensitization training. Teach the dog to sit and stay and lay down and stay with positive reinforcement. This helps teach the dog that they can be happy and calm in one room by themselves as you move to another.
Consider creating a “safe place” that limits how much damage the dog can do in your absence. This safe place needs to@
- Loosely confine the dog – it should be a room with a window and some toys; don’t completely isolate the dog
- Have busy toys the dog can use as a distraction
- Have dirty laundry that offers a calming scent or some other safety cues that relax your dog
Coping While Your Dog is Calming
The unlearning process is a long one and it can take a while for your dog to move past their panic responses. The following are some solutions to consider to help both you and your dog cope for the short term:
- Ask your vet about relieving anxiety through drug therapy
- Leave your dog with a kennel or doggie day care when you go away
- Leave your dog with another family member or friend when you leave
- If it’s possible, then you can take your dog to work
What to Avoid
Punishing the dog for their anxiety won’t help at all. If anything, it will just make your dog more anxious and make everything worse
Getting Another Dog
Getting a companion for your dog is usually not good for helping an anxious dog. This is because they are anxious about you leaving. It doesn’t have anything to do being alone.
Even if you crate your dog it will still display anxious responses. It can cause them to howl, defecate, urinate, and potentially even injure themselves in an attempt to get out of the crate and back to you. There are other safe spaces you should be creating, following the above advice.
Turning the radio or TV on doesn’t help relax a dog unless the sound is used as one of their safety cues
Even though formal training can be a good idea, there’s no disobedience involved in separation anxiety, nor is it a lack of training.
Please consult a professional animal behavior specialist if you require further assistance resolving separation anxiety or any other issues your dog has.