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What's inside: How to know if your dog has separation anxiety can be tricky. Learn how to tell the difference between separation anxiety and doggie boredom and how to help if your dog suffers from separation anxiety.
Does your dog gets anxious anytime you leave the house (or a room for that matter)?
Do guilt and sadness overwhelm you when you leave? Or maybe the thought of what chaos and destruction might greet your when you return make leaving harder and harder.
Separation anxiety is a serious problem that can create many problems for dogs and their owners.
Sadly, your dog isn’t trying to just get your attention or to make you miserable. Stress is causing your dogs’ separation anxiety and he needs your help.
But, is it really separation anxiety or is it boredom? Many times boredom is mistaken for separation anxiety.
What Is Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is severe distress that occurs when a dog is separated from their owner or left alone for any period of time. It is a stress response to a dog or puppy’s instinct to stay with the pack.
The symptoms can vary, but he will act as if he’s terrified to be in the house on his own. Separation anxiety in dogs is similar to a human having a panic attack.
What Is The Difference Between Separation Anxiety and Just Plain Boredom
Separation anxiety goes far beyond the little whimper or bark when you leave the house or even leave a room.
With genuine separation anxiety, a dog can’t stand to let you out of his sight even when you’re together in the home. You can barely move around the house without tripping over your beloved pooch and don’t even think about going to the bathroom without a pair of eyes watching your every move.
Boredom typically results in a little destruction and happens randomly, not just when you leave your dog alone.
To learn more about dog boredom, check out our blog post, 7 Fun Tips to keep your dog from being bored when home alone.
How To Know If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
- Anxious behaviors like pacing, whining or trembling while you’re gone or as you prepare to leave.
- Following you around (velcro dog)
- Excessive barking or howling
- Destructive acts, such as chewing or digging that is not done when you are home
- Accidents in the house – urinating or defecating.
- Excessive salivation, drooling or panting.
- Restlessness, unable to relax
- Attempts to escape
- Exuberant greeting when you return
Other behavior is often mistakenly for separation anxiety. When your dog follows you to the door or barks and cries in the house when you first leave can be mistaken for separation anxiety. However, this behavior usually subsides soon after you leave. It may be undesirable behavior but it’s not true separation anxiety.
Your dog may sleep while you’re gone or pursue destruction in the house. Likely, your dog acts out in destructive ways not because you’re gone but because he’s bored.
Sadly, the causes of separation anxiety in dogs listed above are also many of the reasons people rehome their dogs. This is unfortunate because once diagnosed, separation anxiety can be treated and you and your pup can live peacefully together.
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs
While it’s not clear why some dogs and puppies suffer from separation anxiety, here are some general causes:
- Being left alone for the first time or when they are used to being with people
- Having a new owner
- Being in a shelter
- Moving from a shelter to a home
- A move to a new house
- Change in family routine or schedule
- Loss of a family member (divorce, death, child leaves for college
A simple lack of exercise can also be a trigger for separation anxiety in some dogs and puppies.
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How To Stop Separation Anxiety in Dogs
As hard as it is for you to come home to who knows what or to suffer from guilt and anxiety yourself every time you leave your house, your stressed-out dog is the one who is really suffering.
Lucky for you and your dog, there are solutions.
Here’s how you can help your dog overcome separation anxiety:
- When you leave your home, give your dog something that smells like you. An old t-shirt, a pillowcase, or a towel you’ve used will all work.
- Desensitize your dog to your leaving by teaching him that being alone has rewards. Start by leaving for very short periods of time and slowly increase the amount of time you are gone. If your dog is still showing signs of stress use high-level rewards/treats and give him a treat when you leave. You can also give a treat when you get your keys or grab your purse or jacket so these events will be associated with a high-level reward.
- Exercise is important for so many reasons and helping your dog overcome separation anxiety is one of them. A tired, happy dog will be less stressed when it’s time for you to leave.
- Puzzle toys are a great way to distract your dog when you leave but you might also try some brain training exercises for your dog. Brain exercises can wear your dog out as much as physical exercise. Check out brain training for dogs, an online training program, for some great brain exercises that are not only fun for your dog but will also create some great bonding experiences.
- Be sure not to make a big deal out of departures and arrivals. You can greet your dog with love, but don’t make a big deal out of it. Overdoing coming and going will only make your dog see this as a big event to worry about.
- Never punish your dog for messes made or destruction. Your dog is not chewing on pillows or scratching the door to annoy you nor is he urinating or defecating in the house to intentionally displease you or punish you. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety any destruction or bad behavior is purely a result of the extreme stress your dog is experiencing.
- Practice “Sit/Stay” and “Down/Stay”, specifically in another room, as frequently as possible, to teach your dog you can be in different places and he can still be happy and calm. Start by staying in the room while your dog holds a sit or down stay and then start leaving the room for a brief moment. Keep increasing the time until your dog realizes he can be on his own and not be anxious. This can help your dog develop independence and confidence and relieve some of the separation anxiety.
- Leaving a TV or soft music on might help as some dogs’ find this to be comforting.
- If you feel you’ve tried everything you might need to medicate your dog, either with a prescription from your vet or something as simple as CBD. As always, consult your veterinarian if you suspect something medically wrong or to discuss prescription medications that might help with your dogs’ anxiety.
- Some dogs respond well to what is called a Thunder Shirt or Anxiety Vest, which is designed to apply gentle, constant pressure to calm anxiety, fear, and over-excitement due to a variety of environmental triggers, including separation anxiety.
- Lastly, you can hire a behavior specialist or dog trainer that specializes in separation anxiety. While separation anxiety is not a result of disobedience, a qualified trainer can provide you with some helpful tools. Also, Brain Training for Dogs has advice on how to know if your dog has separation anxiety and how you can help.
Getting Another Dog Will Help – Myth or Truth?
While many dog owners will find themselves thinking that maybe adding another furry friend to the mix will help their dog with separation anxiety, unfortunately, in most cases, this is a myth.
Separation from their human, not just being alone causes separation anxiety. And imagine adding a new dog only to have your new dog pick up the same anxiety from your current dog and now you have double the destruction and two sets of eyes watching you use the bathroom.
Can Separation Anxiety Be Prevented?
Separation anxiety in puppies and dogs isn’t always preventable, despite your best efforts.
If you get a young puppy the best thing you can do is socialize your dog early. Get your puppy used to a variety of situations that help build confidence and a sense of independence.
If your new puppy starts showing signs of separation anxiety don’t let them cry it out or ignore them. This might work for an adult dog but a puppy has just been taken from its mom and litter mates so ignoring their need for comfort could end up backfiring.
How about crate training?
The best time to introduce your dog to a crate is when they are a puppy or when you first bring them home.
A crate should never be used as a punishment but instead should be introduced as a safe, warm, inviting space for your dog or puppy. Teaching your dog to be comfortable in a space away from you can help prevent separation anxiety.
A crate should also never become a substitute for spending time with your dog or puppy. Too much isolation is not healthy for your dog.
An extra note on crates
Crates can be great tools for a variety of reasons. We used a crate for our fear aggressive dog, Frisbee, whenever we had company or if a repair man was in the house or in any situation where we felt Frisbee would be more comfortable on his own.
He loved his crate and I think that being in there, feeling safe, was a real treat for him.
I wrote a series of blogs about my journey with Frisbee and his fear aggression and bite history. While it doesn’t have anything to do with separation anxiety it’s an interesting story and a journey I wouldn’t wish on anyone. You can click here to read Frisbee’s story.
I also used two big crates when we added Biscuit, the sweetest golden retriever ever, as a buddy for Frisbee. I used the crates to feed them even though neither of them had food aggression. It just made me feel more comfortable keeping them separate.
Final Words on Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Dogs with separation anxiety need your help. It is unlikely they will grow out of it or get over it on their own.
Having a dog with separation anxiety is difficult, but don’t lose hope. Chaos and destruction won’t always be waiting to greet you when you return home.
When in doubt, look to resources like the American Kennel Club, or the ASPCA for trustworthy information. And be aware that while these suggestions may help, they shouldn’t be substituted for actual training or advice.
I hope you found value in this post. Please comment below with any feedback or questions. If you have a story to share about your dog with separation anxiety, we would love to hear it.
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