A dog’s life is all about love and loyalty, right? That’s what countless TV ads featuring happy-looking canines frolicking on green fields or playing with children. It seems like a perfect existence. But dogs often get bored at home alone every day while their humans go to work. And, when left alone or not socialized, they can get dog separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety happens when your dog adopts compulsive behaviors, such as excessive barking or licking, to relieve the anxiety caused by being away from you. Left untreated, this can lead to other problems like aggression, house-soiling, and destructive chewing.
The good news is that there are lots of things pet parents can do to help their dog overcome separation anxiety. And once you identify the root of your dog’s anxiety, a solution is around the corner.
What Is Dog Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a condition that affects dogs when they’re left alone. These dogs will often bark or whine excessively, and may also pace, salivate or have accidents in the house when their owner leaves or is busy with another task.
It’s triggered when your pup feels unsafe and can’t control its environment. For some dogs, prior traumatic experiences, such as being abandoned or rehomed may be causing this feeling of anxiety. Other dogs may have never experienced a time when they were away from their guardians and are anxious because they don’t know what to expect.
You may notice this behavior happening when you’re getting ready to leave for work in the morning, or when you go out to run errands. Your dog may follow you around the house and become agitated when you put on your coat or pick up your keys. These behaviors are all based on a pattern of generalized anxiety.
Separation anxiety is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, early socialization experiences, and age. Taking a quiz can help you to assess the severity of your dog’s anxiety and provide some tips on how to treat it.
Trainers, your veterinary behaviorist, and a certified separation anxiety trainer can help you create a treatment plan tailored specifically to your pup’s needs. This can include a combination of behavior modification, desensitization, and anti-anxiety medication.
What are Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
So, you may be asking yourself, “how do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?” It can manifest in a few different ways, so it’s important to know the signs. Here are some indications that your poor pupperino may be experiencing some serious separation anxiety:
- Chewing on Furniture or Other Objects: Many dogs suffering from this may chew on furniture, door frames, or anything else they can get their teeth on when left alone.
- Pacing and Restlessness: Some dogs will pace back and forth or around the house when they’re feeling anxious. Others may become restless and can’t seem to settle down.
- Escape Attempts: Digging, chewing on, or jumping over barriers are classic anxious behaviors. Your pup may try to escape the house or yard to find you, through fences, windows, or doors.
- Excessive Barking or Howling: This is one of the most common symptoms. Your dog may bark, whine, or howl when left alone or before your departure.
- Self-Harm: Some dogs will self-harm to cope with severe separation anxiety. This may include excessive salivation or licking, biting, or chewing of their skin. This, over time, can irritate the skin and cause infections or loss of fur. They may also urinate or defecate in the home or their crate.
Puppy Separation Anxiety
Imagine being a baby, nurtured and safe near your mother and siblings. Now, imagine being abruptly pulled out of everything you know and thrown into a completely new environment with new smells, sounds, and people. Pretty scary, right? When you bring your new puppy home for the first time, it’s kind of like that.
Because of this, it’s typical for your young doggerino to experience some separation anxiety in the early weeks and months of moving in. This is especially true if your puppy was taken away from his mother and littermates too soon.
Puppy separation anxiety shows up when your pup cries during crate time, gets frightened by things such as the vacuum cleaner or television, or wants to constantly be held.
Being calm and consistent in the first few weeks and months will help your doggie develop a positive association with being away from you.
Make sure you also socialize your young pup with different environments, people, and other animals. Reward your pup with praise or treats when they have positive interactions. Puppy classes are also a great way to socialize your new furry friend in a controlled environment.
Finally, get to know your new dog’s temperament. There are certain dog breeds with low separation anxiety as well as certain individual dogs within breeds that are more prone to it. Knowing these things can help you better manage and prevent this issue.
Separation Anxiety in Older Dogs
Just like humans, dogs can experience separation anxiety at any age. If your dog is older and has never experienced this before, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
First, it’s important to rule out any medical conditions that could be causing the behavior. Once you’ve done that, take a look at your dog’s daily routine. Has anything changed? Older dogs don’t appreciate changes in their environment. Keep their routine as consistent as possible.
If your dog is still experiencing separation anxiety despite following a routine, it’s time to look out for when your furry bestie’s current routine is causing them stress. You may need to make some adjustments to help your elderly doggo feel calm.
Dog’s Separation Anxiety at Night
You can help your pupper with night-time separation anxiety by establishing a bedtime routine. This should include things like going for a final potty break, getting a treat or toy, and giving them some attention.
Adjusting his bedding and sleeping location can also help make your doggie feel more comfortable. If he usually sleeps in a big bed with you, you can try putting him in a small kennel or crate next to you. This may help them associate the crate with feeling safe and secure.
Preventing and Treating Separation Anxiety In Dogs
The best way to help your dog is to start socializing them early on and make sure they have a positive association with being away from you. This includes exposing them to different environments, people, and animals.
Make sure you’re also consistent in your routine when training your pup. If household rituals stay the same, they’ll be less likely to feel anxious when you’re not around.
If you notice any signs of stress, make sure you adjust the routine accordingly.
This may include:
- Getting up a few minutes earlier to give them some extra attention before you leave for the day
- Leaving them with a puzzle toy stuffed with treats to get their mental stimulation up. This would also help associating you leaving with a fun activity. Check out our human food and human-style food treats recommendations in this article.
- Even a cuddle session before bed.
Keep in mind that your anxiety levels will also affect your dog. Try to stay calm and positive around them. With a little bit of time and effort, you can help your furry friend, and maybe even yourself, experience a bit more peace.
Toys and Other Resources
Isn’t it great to have some tools to make life easier for you and your sweet doggo? Here are some products that I’ve found to help manage separation anxiety in dogs. Also, check out our article about Best Pet Cameras for a cool way to help your pupper with this:
This popular stuffed animal has a "real-feel" pulsing heartbeat to help soothe your pup.
It can help with crate training, reduce generalized anxiety, and can aid in a better night's sleep (for you as well).
Dogs love to be swaddled, and this plush bed provides the perfect cozy spot for your anxious pup. It has a raised circular lip that helps them feel safe and secure, and the donut shape is ideal for cuddling.
These natural and high-quality tasty soft chew supplements can help reduce stress, anxiety, and even motion sickness for your pup. They contain melatonin, ginger, L-Tryptophan and thiamin, all of which work together to create a sense of calm.
This comprehensive guide by Julie Naismith includes everything you need to know about dog separation anxiety, from the signs and symptoms to how to create a treatment plan. For even more information, check out her podcast on Apple or Spotify.
Dogs with separation anxiety can be a real challenge, but with some patience and effort, you can help your special little guy or gal overcome their fears. Try to start socializing them early on, be consistent in your training, and pay attention to your dog’s behavior. And remember, adding a healthy dosage of love and cuddles will also go a long way!