Separation anxiety in dogs is a serious canine behavioural issue. To address this problem, we will identify the definitive signs of separation anxiety in dogs and ways to resolve it.
Misbehaviour Is Not Equal to Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Destructive dog behavior problems such as incessant barking, whining, and chewing are commonly linked to separation anxiety in dogs. There is truth in this, but it is not entirely accurate.
Not all dog mischief is a symptom of separation anxiety. According to a professional dog trainer named Brian Kilcommons, dogs sometimes engage in mischief because they enjoy them.
Trash-raiding or destroying furniture can also be due to incomplete house training. When such problems happen even when you are home or when his routine is changed, they are not definitive signs of separation anxiety in dogs.
How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?
A dog with separation anxiety tends to follow his owner wherever they go. It is in fear that they will suddenly leave him alone.
When a dog’s owner is about to leave the house, the dog will become visibly anxious. For instance, he will show signs like whining or pacing back and forth restlessly.
What are other common signs of separation anxiety in dogs?
Here are a few behavior problems that are frequently seen in dogs suffering from separation anxiety:
- Dogs are over drooling, vocalising excessively, destroying various items in the house, and having potty accidents in the house.
- Dogs may attempt to escape by digging and scratching on doors and windows.
- Dogs are excessively eager to greet their owners when they return, even if they were gone for just 5 minutes.
The manifestation of these separation-related behaviours is not due to a lack of training or discipline. It is brought on by the feeling of panic when a family member, whom they are hyper-attached to, is not with them.
Signs of separation anxiety in dogs usually do not occur when their owners are present. These destructive behaviours often take place when pawrents prepare to leave the house and when they are away from home.
What causes separation anxiety in dogs?
The development of dog separation anxiety can due to a variety of things, such as:
- A sudden change of environment (e.g., moving to a new home)
- Loss of a loved one or a close furry friend
- Suffered from a traumatic experience
- Breed predisposition
Which dog breeds have separation anxiety?
Dog breeds that were intentionally bred to be hyper-aware or deeply bonded to people are more prone to dog separation anxiety. Here is a list of breeds that are predisposed to this dog behavior problem:
- Australian Shepherd
- Bichon Frise
- Border Collie
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Cocker Spaniel
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Labrador Retriever
How to Help a Dog with Separation Anxiety
The key to successfully help a dog overcome his separation anxiety is gradual exposure to longer periods of your absence. This will teach your dog that your departure is not a big deal.
To achieve this goal, you need to let your dog associate your absence and departure with positive experiences. Learn more helpful tips on how to manage separation anxiety in dogs as you read on.
Knowing Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety Threshold
Your dog separation anxiety training strategy should begin from this base. Aiming for something far beyond what your dog can cope with guarantees failure. An example is leaving him for 3 hours when he starts getting distressed within a minute of your absence.
This is how you discover your pet’s isolation threshold:
- Strategically position a device that allows you to watch your dog’s behavior when you go out of the front door. For example, you can use video calling apps installed on a gadget.
- Use a stopwatch to monitor the time threshold. Start the clock once you close the door after going out.
- Walk some distance so that your pet cannot see or hear you. Note what your dog is doing after you leave.
- Increase the amount of time of your observation to around 5–10 minutes. This will give you a better picture of his behaviour.
- Return home as soon as the 10 minutes are up.
The separation anxiety threshold of your pet is the duration between your departure and the moment the separation anxiety behaviours start manifesting.
It could be anywhere from 5 seconds or several minutes. It could start even before you go out the door.
Desensitise Your Pet to Your Pre-Departure Cues
Your dog’s separation anxiety may start whilst you are getting ready to go. As such, practise your pre-departure cues with him. You can set aside time for this, aside from the training period for the actual departure.
Let’s say your pre-departure cues involve putting on your coat, picking up your keys, and wearing your shoes in that order many times a day without leaving.
For the first day, do the coat-wearing only. Then take it off and wait for a minute before doing it again. After a few days, wear your coat and then pick up your keys.
Return the items and wait for a minute before taking them again. The decision on when to add a new item depends on your dog’s reaction and progress.
Remember, gradual build-up is the key. Continue to add new items until you have your whole routine done without incident.
Curb Separation Anxiety in Dogs By Giving Them Alone Time
For your dog to overcome separation anxiety, his training sessions will focus on desensitising him to your absence. Here are the steps on how to do it:
- Leave the room for a few seconds and then return inside.
- Your dog will probably cause a ruckus whilst you are outside the room. When you are back inside, wait until he stops being reactive.
- Step outside again once he calms down. Repeat these steps until he stops showing separation-related behaviours.
- Slowly increase the time you leave in the next few days or weeks. You may do so in increments of 30 seconds, depending on your dog’s anxiety threshold and progress.
The total training time should be 30 minutes, 4–5 times a week. You will know if your dog has achieved the training goal when he can be left alone for long periods of time.
Crate Training Can Help Stop Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Should you crate a dog with separation anxiety? The answer is yes. But make sure that it is done in a way that makes him view the crate as a safe space. Never use the crate for punishment purposes, as it will make him fear staying inside it.
Below are a few pointers on how to crate-train your dog to ease his separation anxiety:
- Leave the crate door open for your dog to explore inside. Place treats inside to catch more of his attention.
- Give your dog treats when he starts sniffing or walking towards/inside the crate. Encouraging him to get inside may take time, so be patient.
- Once he is used to fully entering the crate, train your dog to walk inside the crate on cue. Do this by saying a verbal cue such as “inside” whilst he enters the crate.
Give your dog some praises and treats when he carries the command out successfully. Repeat this step until your dog learns the command completely.
- Feed your dog his meals inside the crate. Close the crate door whilst he eats, and open it when he is done eating. This will allow him to associate the good experience with the crate.
- Increase the amount of time your dog spends inside the crate with the gate closed by giving him a toy stuffed with treats like Kong or a favourite toy to busy himself with.
- Around this time, your dog is already comfortable staying inside the crate. So, start leaving the room for a few seconds whilst he is eating or playing inside the crate.
- Gradually increasing the amount of time you are away can be done if your dog does not react to your absence. However, if your dog feels anxious, do not add additional time. Do the training at his own pace to obtain satisfactory results.
- Once you go back inside, make sure not to make a fuss. Keep greetings low-key to prevent stimulating your dog, which can fuel his separation anxiety. If he is excited to get out of the crate, let him settle down first before opening the door.
Keep in mind that keeping dogs in a crate for long periods can affect their physical and mental health.
If you have an adult dog, he should not be left inside for more than 6–8 hours. For puppies age 17 weeks and older, 4–5 hours is their maximum crate time limit.
Home Remedies for Separation Anxiety in Dogs
There are lots of methods dog owners can try to calm down their anxious dogs. We have listed down 3 simple home remedies that can aid in stopping separation anxiety in dogs.
1. Play dog-soothing sounds.
Classical music is proven to have a calming effect on many dogs. These are easy to acquire since they can be found on the internet. You can also try other types of music so long as they are not loud.
White noise can also be used. Normal household sounds like the chattering of the news radio or when you’re watching TV are some examples.
Play these sounds when you are leaving your dog and when you are with him. This will prevent him from associating the sounds with a pre-departure cue.
2. Leave an item with your smell.
Research shows that the scents of dog owners provide a pleasurable effect on their pets.
So, before leaving your dog, why not give him an item of clothing that you have worn? It will help him relax and prevent his separation anxiety from rearing its head whilst you are away.
3. Give your dog plenty of physical and mental exercise.
Engage your dog in various daily exercise activities to tire him out, like Frisbee, tug of war, solving puzzle toys, and hide-and-seek. Walk your dog before leaving to let him release his pent-up energy, which can worsen his separation anxiety.
Exhausted pooches tend to be more relaxed and often sleep for hours to recuperate energy. This lessens their chances of pondering about their owners’ absence and eases their separation anxiety.
More Tips on Breaking Separation Anxiety in Dogs
- Training time should be done at different times of the day. Otherwise, your pet will think that the desensitisation only applies at a certain time of the day.
- Other people in your household should be involved so that your pet will learn to be calm no matter who leaves.
- Be calm, firm, and confident. You should not be guilty about leaving your pet alone at home. Your dog will catch on to that (and other negative energies) and will get distressed. Leave calmly to emphasise the normalcy of the separation.
- The case of separation anxiety may seem uncontrollable for many dogs, but it can be stopped with proper training and behaviour modification.Sadly, the process is not easy, so dog owners must exercise patience. Never punish your dog as it will only lead to more behavioural problems.
- Separation anxiety in dogs is a difficult behavior problem to solve on your own. If the training process is not working, reach out to a trustworthy professional dog trainer or canine behaviour specialist to help you.
- Consider allowing your dog to undergo drug therapy. Throughout the years, several medications specifically made to alleviate separation anxiety in dogs were made. Consult the vet before starting drug therapy to ensure that you are making a sound decision. Keep in mind that drug therapy is not a quick fix and should be accompanied by separation anxiety training.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Healing Takes Time
Remedying separation anxiety in dogs requires consistency and patience. Your dog’s age, size, breed, or intensity of his separation anxiety are not good predictors of his ability to overcome isolation distress.
Curing dog separation anxiety quickly is rarely attainable. It is not clear when your dog will be able to resolve this behavioural problem. Realistically, the time frame can range from weeks to a few months.
Thus, focus on gradual improvements—achievement milestones if you will—rather than a total cure. In time, your pet will get to that coveted 100% recovery goal.