Dog Separation Anxiety - Causes, Signs and Training to Overcome Anxiety in Your Dog

What Is Dog Separation Anxiety

Dog separation anxiety is a serious condition and can occur in any dog breeds and at any age.

dog separation anxiety

When separated from their human guardians or left alone, a dog with canine separation anxiety will become extremely anxious and stressed.

Your dog will also display a multitude of distressed behaviors in the form of: barking, howling, whining, defecating, destroying furniture, clawing and biting at doors, windows, walls, and hurting themselves in an effort to “escape”. Not only is there the risk of your dog with separation anxiety causing themselves physical harm, but there is also the emotional trauma the dog experiences as well.

What Causes Dog Separation Anxiety?

No one is sure what causes a dog to be anxious when separated from his or her human companion. There are several theories that dog behaviorists speculate triggers separation anxiety in dogs:

  • Dogs that lack confidence, particularly the ones that have have been abandoned or have been through animal shelters, are the ones most likely to exhibit signs of dog separation anxiety. Often dogs adopted from shelters show signs of separation anxiety once in their new home.

  • Dogs that are accustomed to living in a home that didn’t require them to be alone and becomes overly reliant on his pack suddenly experiencing a change in routine that requires them to be alone.

  • Dogs that have recently moved in to a new environment or a new neighborhood may become confuse and vulnerable when he/she doesn't know where you are going.

  • Under socialization or the lack of socialization can cause both puppies and adult dogs to develop anxiety related problems.

  • Another theory is genetics and that some dog breeds are born with a predisposition to be stressed or clingy when separated from their human companions.

Signs of Dog Separation Anxiety

Each dog has its own needs, feelings, personality and tolerance; therefore they display signs of stress in different ways. However some of the most common symptoms and signs to look out for that will signal dog separation anxiety related problems are:

  • Obsessive Clinginess – your dog following you around the house or physically pressing themselves against you.

  • Whining and panting when they recognize signs that you will be leaving the house, such as picking up car or house keys, putting on shoes, etc

  • canine separation anxiety
  • Excessive barking, howling, whining, drooling and scratching at the door or windows when you leave the house.

  • Enthusiastic and almost manic greeting behaviors when you arrive back home.

  • Returning home and finding household items chewed on or destroyed.

  • Inappropriate urinating and house soiling behavior in the house occurs primarily when he's left alone.

  • Loss of appetite or not eating yummy treats when left alone.

  • Not willing or dislikes to spend time outdoors by himself.

Training To Help Overcome And Cure Your Dog's Separation Anxiety

The following techniques can help manage mild to moderate dog separation anxiety or prevent it altogether in dogs with no symptoms. If the problems persists after trying these, see your veterinarian for a thorough physical examination to rule out any underlying medical causes for your dog's behavior.

  1. Practice Gradual Departures

    • Collect your belongings (such as picking car keys or putting on your coat) as if you were going out, then touch the doorknob, but not go anywhere. Repeat this exercise several times a day. This simple training helps decrease the excitement and stress association the dog has to you leaving the house.

    • Next, you will move on to opening the door, but not go anywhere slowly followed by going outside, closing the door, but then coming immediately back in. Gradually increase the time you spend outside by a few seconds. Each step’s progress will depend on the dog remaining calm and will set your dog up to withstand future longer absences much better.

    • Eventually, as your dog get accustomed to being alone, you will increase the length of these practice training by 5 - 10 minutes at a time until after a couple of days, you work up to outings lasting a few hours.

    Important Note: The number of repetitions or how long it will take to desensitize your dog to overcome his separation anxiety will vary depending on the severity of the problem. If at any time during the training process, your dog started to panic, you may have been to eager and proceeded too fast. Slow down and practice again until the dog shows no physical signs of distress. Remember not to comfort your dog when he or she is upset. Only praise or reward him/her when your dog is quiet and calm.

  2. Maintain Low-Key Arrivals and Departures

  3. Do not make a fuss over your dog when you leave or get home. If your dog comes to you whining, pawing, barking, jumping onto your lap, quietly turn away from him/her and ignore your dog for the first few minutes. By not giving in to your dog's demands for your attention, this helps to remove some of the tensions that surrounds the event. Wait until your dog is quiet and calmly, then call him/her over for some attention so that your dog understands that he/she is being rewarded for good behavior.

  4. Exercise Your Dog Before You Leave

  5. Give your dog more exercise. Long walks around the neighborhood or playing games with your dog are good ways to help give your dog a great work out. A tire dog is most likely to sleep most of the day and is less likely to feel stress when you go out.

  6. Crate Training

  7. Crate training your dog can help your dog to cope with his separation anxiety and prevent mishaps around the house while you are out.

    (See Crate Training Your Dog for more information if your dog has not been crate trained before.)

  8. Give A Special Treat or Chew Toy When You Leave

  9. Stuff a Kong with goodies or give him chew toys that your dog really likes to keep him interested and distracted when you leave each day. Keep the toys hidden when you are back home and only take it out when you're about to leave each day. The aim is to distract your dog with something that he/she will find interesting enough to ignore your leaving. If your dog abandons the toy to try to demand your attention, quietly get him interested in the toy again, and quietly praise him for playing with it.

When working with a dog that has separation anxiety it is very important not to have any setbacks. Dog separation anxiety will usually takes some time to overcome because you will want to progress at a rate with which the dog is comfortable. Since these solutions can take a while, some other ways to prevent your dog from being alone while working on his/her separation anxiety issues are:

  1. Bringing him or her to a dog daycare for the day if your dog is sociable with other dogs. This way they will not have to be alone.

  2. Arrange for a friend or family member to stay home or work from home to take care of your dog when you cannot be there for a long period of time.

  3. If your work situation allows, and if your dog likes other people, perhaps you can even bring your dog to work.

Tip: Remember to keep your daily routine with your dog the same 7 days a week while training him/her to overcome separation anxiety issues. Do not give your dog 100 percent attention on days when you're at home the whole day, otherwise you can expect an increase in panic and anxiety issues on the following days if you need to leave the house for work or school. Do him a favor and make his life predictable.

Dog Separation Anxiety Prevention

One good preventive way to avoid getting into a situation where you have a dog who has this challenging and stressful condition is to get your dog used to being alone while he/she is still a puppy.

While it is great to spend time with your dog, giving them time to be alone is also important. Quite often, because puppies are so cute, and because families get them in the summer when the kids are home from school, puppies become use to be doted upon all the time. We can imagine, then, what a shock it is for them when the school year starts again and everyone disappears!

Utilize crates, pens and gates so you can go to other parts of the house for short periods of time and give puppy a yummy treat or chew to work on so they learn that being alone can be a good thing!

Be Patient and You Will Continue to Make Progress

One thing that is very important when training your dog to be comfortable spending time alone is never to punish your dog for destruction to your house while you are gone. A dog who destroys items when left alone is acting out of fear. The last thing you want to do is add another element of fear to his/her life.

Training Tip: Hitting and yelling at your dog does nothing to bring confidence to a fearful dog who is suffering from separation anxiety. Reprimand your dog only when you actually observe it misbehaving - displaying anger after the event will simply confuse the dog.

Be patient when working with your dog to cope with his/her separation anxiety. Like all good trainings, dog trainings to help your canine friend overcome dog separation anxiety should always have motivators like prizes and rewards to yield better and more positive results.

In your dog's mind you and your family are pack leaders, you make decisions and your dog complies. Understand how your dog thinks, modify your training methods when necessary and you can alleviate dog separation anxiety for your furry best friend and at the same time make your own life a little less anxious as well!

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