Helping Dogs Cope with Separation Anxiety

Unfortunately, some dogs have separation anxiety that causes them to act out when left alone. Their separation anxiety is triggered when they become upset, erratic, and disruptive after their guardian leaves. In some cases, escape attempts and other coping behaviors have caused self-injury, which causes additional stress for them and you.

Common behaviors that signal distress and anxiety include:

Destructive chewing – When your pet is anxious, they may not be able to tell the difference between a toy and things that are unacceptable to chew. This could be dangerous for them and a hassle for you.

Scratching and biting – Scratching at the door or biting their crate is your dog’s attempt at trying to get to you. While trying to escape whatever is blocking their path, there is a possibility of injury.

Howling, barking, and whining – One of the most common signs of separation anxiety is when your dog howls, barks, whines, or pants excessively while you get ready to leave and/or while you are gone.

Urination and defecation – Sometimes even house-trained dogs have issues with “holding it” while in distress.

It is not fully understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and others do not. Regardless of their reasoning, some dogs just have a panic response to being left alone. Being aware of scenarios that can trigger anxiety can help to combat the behaviors.

Being left alone for the first time – No matter how long you’ve had your dog, being left alone for the first time can be scary as they don’t know when you will return! Try to get them comfortable with the crate beforehand so they don’t see it as a bad thing.

Never left alone – If you spend every waking moment with your dog, they are going to get used to that and panic when you are not around. When they get accustomed to constant human contact, it will be harder to leave them when the need arises.

Suffering a traumatic event – Time in a shelter or being shuffled from place to place can be traumatic for any dog. Getting lost for any period of time can be extremely fearful for your pet.

Change in routine or structure – If you have recently moved or your family structure suddenly changes due to the loss of a family member or other pet, your dog feels the change just as much as you do. Dogs can be routine-based and when that gets disrupted, it can be hard for them to find comfort.

Depending on the severity of your dog’s separation anxiety, there are various techniques you can try. Remember, not every dog is the same so you may have to take multiple avenues before finding the one that works best for you and your dog.

Tips for combating minor separation anxiety:

Don’t make a big deal out of departures and arrivals – Regardless of the space your dog is confined to, don’t make a big production about leaving. Put them there, give them a treat or toy, say bye, and leave immediately. When you come home, let them out and ignore them until they calm down. Once settled, reward them with some loving.

Leave them with something – Whether it is a couch blanket or one of your recently worn sweatshirts, leaving your dog with something that smells like you can be comforting.

Try a calming product – There are various over-the-counter calming products that can help reduce fearfulness in dogs. Calming treats are easy to eat and can help give your dog the little nudge they need to relax.

Tips for more severe cases of separation anxiety:

Desensitization training – Teach your dog the sit-stay and down-stay commands using lots of positive reinforcement. Once they have mastered the commands with you within eyesight, start moving to a place where they can’t see you. This will help them remain calm while you go in another room and they can transition those feelings into you leaving the house.

Create a safe place – If your dog shows anxiety in a crate, they may feel better in a loosely confined space. Gating off a room or two can confine them if they’re prone to destruction, giving them ample toys to catch their attention. Toys, like treat dispensing balls, can be a nice distraction for an extended period of time. Be sure to leave items of clothing or blankets around, as your scent is comforting to them.

Talk to your vet – In extreme cases, your dog may benefit from drug therapy to reduce their overall anxiety. A professional may also be able to make suggestions based on your pet and their specific needs.

Remember, separation anxiety is hard for both you and your dog to deal with. Anxiety issues are not remedied over-night and your dog may need some time to become accustomed to being left alone. By putting in the effort, you can make it a lot easier for both you and your dog when you leave the house, making everyone happier!