10 Tips to Help Separation Anxiety in Dogs
What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Separation Anxiety in dogs is when dogs are overly attached or dependent on one or more family members.
They often form an attachment to one person. If that person isn’t present, they go into panic mode. Dogs with separation anxiety become very distressed. They sometimes become destructive when their pet parent isn’t around. Dogs with separation anxiety often follow you from room to room. Also, they may not want to spend time outdoors alone.
Dr. Karen Overall in her article “How to Help With Separation Anxiety in Dogs” defines separation anxiety in dogs as, “A condition in which animals exhibit symptoms of anxiety or excessive distress when they are left alone” in her book Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Most of us don’t know what our dogs do all day when we are gone. But, if your dog regularly exhibits one or more of the following behaviors, he may have separation anxiety:
Excessive Barking or Whining
Separation in anxiety in dogs can lead to barking. Once you leave the house, your dog starts barking. If you have neighbors, they may tell you that it goes on all day. It might break your heart, but they probably aren’t pleased about it. This can include barking, whining, or howling. Once you get home, the distress stops, and so does the barking and crying.
Destructive Chewing or Digging
Separation anxiety in dogs may also show up as chewing on furniture or scratching the windows and doors. He is not trying to be a “bad dog.” He is trying to cope with his overwhelming stress and panic.
Not only do you not want to see your pooch feel distressed while you are gone, but it can also get expensive. It’s hard not to be angry with your dog when you come home to find a hole in your couch.
When your dog pees and poops in the house only when you are gone, this is probably separation anxiety.
Unless, of course, you have a puppy, and you leave him for an extended period of time.
Accidents can be an aggravating problem when you know your dog is house-trained.
It’s challenging to come home after a long day at work, and you have to clean up a mess, rather than relaxing. Remember, your dog is not doing this intentionally. Separation anxiety in dogs can lead to peeing or poohing in the house.
Panting and Trembling
Separation Anxiety in dogs may result in panting and trembling. It may be a tough one to spot because you are not at home to see it. But if you see your dog start to pant, tremble or shake when you leave, they most likely have separation anxiety.
Excessive Drooling or Salivation
Panting can lead to excessive slobbering and may be difficult for your dog to breathe. Excessive drooling is called hypersalivation. This can include drooling and foaming at the mouth.
You may think your dog is having a heart attack or having other serious medical problems. It could be separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in dogs can cause this much distress.
Intense Pacing or Circling
Another common sign of separation anxiety in dogs is pacing or going in circles when they are alone. This often happens when they are in small rooms or a crate.
An Obsessive Need to “Break Free”
You may decide to put your dog in a crate when you leave, especially if he destroys furniture or soils the carpet. With separation anxiety, your dog may become frantic when you lock your dog in the crate. He begins to scratch, chew, or do anything to break out.
It’s not the confinement that they are reacting to, but their separation anxiety. Even with the comfiest pillow and best toys, he will still act this way if your dog has separation anxiety.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs Overview
These behaviors occur almost every time that you leave. A dog with separation anxiety may begin these behaviors when she sees you put your coat on or get your keys.
When you return home, they act as if they haven’t seen you in years.
The behavior is not a one-time incident or only happens once in a while.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking destructive behaviors are due to disobedience
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Isn’t that the million-dollar question? And even if you do figure it out, there is generally very little you can do about it.
For example, separation anxiety in dogs can be triggered by any change in the family. If a child heads off for college, the dog may start to experience separation anxiety. When all the family members leave to go to work or the store, your dog shows signs of distress.
So even though you have the “why,” it still doesn’t help decrease your dog’s separation anxiety. Obviously, you don’t want your child to drop out of college to stay home with your dog.
The following lists situations associated with separation anxiety in dogs:
Generally speaking, dogs adopted from shelters have more behavior problems. This includes separation anxiety in dogs. It is ideal to have a dog stay with one family since puppyhood. This doesn’t always happen. Separation anxiety may be due to losing their first family or parent.
Change of Guardian or Family
Being abandoned or given to a new family can trigger separation anxiety in dogs.
Change in Schedule
If your schedule changes abruptly, your dog can develop separation anxiety. For example, you may be working from home and then get a new job that requires you to go to the office. If your pooch is used to you being at home and then you switch to being gone much of the day, it can lead to separation anxiety.
Change in Residence
Moving to a new house or apartment may trigger separation anxiety in dogs.
Change in Household Membership
If someone in your family moves away or dies, this can increase separation anxiety in dogs.
Is it Separation Anxiety or Something Else?
Firstly, let’s rule out other problems, and that looks like separation anxiety in dogs. Treat any medical or behavioral problems first. This will help you determine if your dog has separation anxiety.
Incontinence Caused by Medical Problems
Some dogs have bladders that “leak,” and they seem unaware that they have urinated. Reasons include:
- a urinary tract infection
- a weak sphincter caused by old age
- hormone problems after being spayed
- diabetes, bladder stones
- kidney disease
- neurological problems
- Cushing’s disease
Some medications have the side effect of frequent urination and house soiling. If your dog takes any medications, contact his Veterinarian. Ask if his medications could contribute to his house-soiling problems.
Urinating when Excited
I think we’ve all known that little Chihuahua who greets you by peeing on the floor. This is excitement, not separation anxiety. Sometimes dogs will urinate while playing, having physical contact or being reprimanded.
Incomplete House Training
This is more common in male dogs. I once had a male Pug who would pee on the wall or side of the couch every time the mailman came. I was never successful training him not to do this and instead ran him into the backyard when someone came to the door. He could bark and pee to his heart’s content. This type of behavior problem has nothing to do with separation anxiety in dogs.
Destroying Furniture, Walls, and Digging
Some young dogs chew up things or dig up the backyard while the pet parent is not home. If your dog is a juvenile, this behavior may be due to high energy and the need for socialization.
This is why parents of teenage humans often put their children in organized sports. This helps them burn off some of that energy and socialize with peers.
Being destructive once you leave the house does not always mean he is suffering from separation anxiety in dogs.
Even dogs can become bored. They need mental stimulation. Combine being bored and being left alone, and you often get some destructive behavior.
Excessive Barking, Howling, or Whining
Some dogs bark due to sights or sounds.
Lucky for me, there is a nearby Air Force base that often sends planes my way a few times per day. Each and every time, my two Pugs bark and bark. My Pug training has not worked, and they have not become desensitized to the sounds.
Instead, out they go into the yard to bark to their heart’s content. And my neighbors live far away, so I don’t have to worry about them disturbing them.
Again, this happens when I’m home or not home. This is not an indication of separation anxiety in dogs. This is an indication that they are going to bark at these planes for as long as I live here. Haha!
10 Tips to Help with Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Number 1. Retrain your Dog to Reduce Dependence
Separation anxiety in dogs can result in your dog following you from room to room. The goal is to retrain him to be relaxed and independent.
Do not reward him if he demands attention from you. The reward for this would be to give him any kind of attention. Ignore when he demands attention. Also, ignore him when he is following you from room to room.
When he lies down and relaxes away from you, reward him with praise.
Train your dog to stay on a mat or blanket. Then have him stay as you move about the house where he can’t always see you. In the beginning, reassure her with your voice that you are still there.
Over time, have him stay on his blanket or pillow for longer and longer time periods. Work up to an hour. You want to have him stay while you are in another room. You will have to add time to this by shaping this behavior gradually. Eventually, your dog will relax during this time.
Number 2. Train “Be Calm” or “Relax”
Teaching your dog to relax is a great way to deal with separation anxiety in dogs.
Have your dog stay on his mat, bed, or blanket.
Once he relaxes, go over and give him some attention and affection.
Gradually shape relaxed behavior. Have him stay on his bed or blanket for longer and longer periods before giving him attention.
You want your dog to learn that relaxed and calm behavior gets his reward. In this case, the reward is attention.
You want to avoid casual interactions when he is not entirely relaxed. Casual interactions mean talking to him or petting him.
Do this for the first few weeks. Yes, a few weeks.
Separation anxiety in dogs is a deeply-rooted problem. It may take weeks or months to rectify.
Number 3. Exercise, Especially Immediately Before Leaving
If you’re going out, allow extra time to get ready. Before leaving, you want to take your pooch for a brisk walk. Add some playtime, so he is more likely to settle down when you leave. This may make an impact on separation anxiety in dogs if your pup is experiencing this.
Make sure he gets plenty of exercise just before you walk out the door to go to work or wherever you are going.
Here are some physical and mental exercises to decrease agitation and impact separation anxiety in dogs:
- Thirty minutes of aerobic activity, depending on the breed and health issues. Do what your dog is capable of doing, but don’t overdo it.
- Play tug-of-war or fetch.
- Walk to a new place, so he can experience new sights and sounds.
- Go to the dog park to run around with his pals.
- Try a dog food puzzle to keep him mentally active. This is a great activity while you’re showering and getting ready to go out. If your dog chews up or destroys things while you are gone, take the food puzzle away before leaving.
Number 4. Give your Dog Something Special for When You are Gone
Dogs with separation anxiety should be busy and occupied when you leave. Give a special food treat while he is on his pillow or bed. Distracted him by having him enjoy himself when you leave the house.
You may want to consider a peanut butter coated dog toy, a dog toy stuffed with dog food, or some frozen dog treats. Give something that will keep your dog distracted for as long as possible while you are gone.
One idea is to take a Kong toy, fill it 3/4ths full with a soft treat, such as canned dog food or peanut butter. Put it in the freezer until fully frozen. Just before leaving, fill the remaining part of the Kong with the soft treat. This is an excellent challenge for your dog to work on while you are gone.
This is a great idea to help separation anxiety in dogs. The longer he is preoccupied with his treat, the less likely separation anxiety will set in.
Number 5. To Crate or Not to Crate?
Crate training is helpful for some dogs, but not for others. You know your dog best. Some dogs feel secure in their crates. Others spend their entire time in the crate distressed and trying to break out.
If you’re not sure if a crate is right for your dog, put him in a crate while you are home. See how he does when you go into another room for a while. An exercise pen is really a great way to help with separation anxiety in dogs.
If a crate is too confining for your dog, try a small room or playpen. Leave water, a comfy bed, and some toys. You can confine him behind a baby gate to decrease the feeling of being locked in a small room.
If your dog’s separation anxiety is not too intense, an exercise pen or playpen is a good option. That is if he’s not going to hurt himself getting out of it. An exercise pen gives him a nice open feeling, with no walls to dig into.
Train your dog with separation anxiety that the exercise pen is a good place to nap or play with his toys. Have him stay in this area and keep him relaxed. Again, use shaping to increase his time in this area.
Get him to associate being in the exercise pen as a place to relax. This will make it easier when you have to go out and leave him in there. This will decrease separation anxiety in dogs.
Number 6. Act Like You’re Relaxing When You’re Really Leaving
For the 20 to 30 minutes before leaving, ignore your dog. Give yourself enough time, so after you are ready to go, you can relax. Sit on the couch and watch TV or read a book. Avoid all the departure cues. Departure cues are getting your keys, brushing your teeth, putting on your coat, etc.
Hopefully, your dog will relax during this time.
Once you decide to leave, do not bring any attention to the fact that you are leaving. Do not say goodbye. Casually get your belongings and leave. Believe me. This is tough to do even if your pup does not suffer from separation anxiety in dogs.
Number 7. Act Like You’re Leaving, But Stay
This is one tactic to work on reducing your dog’s pre-departure anxiety.
Teach your dog that putting on your coat or getting your keys, doesn’t always mean that you will be leaving. Do these things several times per day, but don’t go.
Be aware of whatever your dog has learned are your departure cues. For example, you may want to put on your lipstick, get your coat and keys, but then relax, watch TV and sit on the couch. This may feel odd, but it definitely helps with separation anxiety in dogs.
Associate things that cause him separation anxiety with you spending time with him.
As always, this is not a one-time training event. Your pooch has learned your cues over the past weeks, months, or even years. It will take a few weeks for him to learn that getting your keys does not always mean you are leaving. Once he learns this, he won’t be triggered into the distress of a separation anxiety attack every time you get your keys out.
Number 8. Proceed Gradually Toward Leaving your Dog Alone for Long Periods of Time
If possible, plan your absences from home to be short. The idea is to come home before your dog starts experiencing separation anxiety.
As mentioned earlier, start with being out-of-sight while in the home. Wouldn’t it be nice actually to go to the bathroom by yourself? Haha! Gradually increase your time when your pup is on the other side of the door.
Grab your keys, coat, or whatever you normally do when you leave the house. Do an out-of-sight exercise. Go into your bedroom and shut the door. Come out just before you think your dog will start to experience separation anxiety.
Do not stay in the bedroom so long that he starts experiencing separation anxiety.
Next, exit a door that you don’t usually leave from.
If you always use the front door when you leave, have your dog stay on his pillow or blanket and go out the backdoor. Again, come back into the house before his separation anxiety has set in.
Practice this throughout your day with him. These practices are known to help with separation anxiety in dogs.
Increase the time and be sure to come back in before he begins to feel separation anxiety. Sometimes give him a stuffed food toy just before you leave to distract him. On these occasions, you will be able to be “gone” longer.
Do not practice these sessions too close together. Be certain your dog is completely relaxed each time you leave. Always be quiet when you leave – no big goodbyes. In fact, it would be best to go without saying anything.
A tricky part of this exercise is being able to judge the length of time you can be gone. Again, you want to return before he feels distressed due to separation anxiety.
Only you know how your dog reacts. Separation in dogs is different for all of our pooches.
Try to do this correctly. You do not want to come back in when your dog is experiencing separation anxiety.
This will teach him that you come back when he feels this way.
If you detect stress, you should decrease the length of your departure times again. Continue to add time, but at a slower rate. Separation anxiety in dogs takes time as your dog learns you will return after you leave.
Work up to 40 minutes of being gone without your dog experiencing separation anxiety. Work up to this slowly over a few weeks. You want to increase the time by a few seconds each time. Once your dog can be alone for 40 minutes, increase the time by 5 minutes. Later he can learn to tolerate adding 15 minutes at a time.
Once he is alone for two hours, he can probably handle 4 hours. Once he can handle 4 hours at a time, work up to a full eight hours.
But you might be wondering what you are supposed to do with your dog before he is fully trained. You need to go to work and the grocery store. He will feel separation anxiety at this time. If you can leave him with a family member, friend, or doggy daycare while you are gone, this is a great solution. That is, in least until he gets over his separation anxiety.
Leaving your pooch at a doggy daycare or with a friend might not be an option for you and your dog. Just continue to train, knowing it may take a little longer. That’s because your pup is experiencing separation anxiety when you’re away from home.
Number 9. Downplay Coming Home
If you come home and your dog has soiled or destroyed something, do not punish him.
This will only increase his anxiety, and obviously, punishment does not deter him the next time you go away. During a separation anxiety episode, your dog will not think, “Better not chew up this pillow. I don’t want to get yelled at when my Mom gets home.” It doesn’t work that way.
Avoid punishment and excited greetings.
When you get home, we all have the temptation to greet our dogs with happy tones and many pets. Instead, ignore your dog until he settles down. This could take 10 to 15 minutes. The goal is to teach your dog that the faster he settles down, the quicker he gets your attention.
All hellos and goodbyes should be calm. We do not want to reinforce your dog’s excitement during these times. This is difficult, but necessary to help your dog learn to calm down faster.
Over time, your doggy will learn that he only gets attention when he is calm, not demanding it. This intervention helps with seperation anxiety in dogs.
Number 10. Talk to your Veterinarian
Try these tips for at least a month. If you do not see a decrease in your dog’s separation anxiety, make an appointment with your veterinary. Ask him about a consult with a veterinary behaviorist or if medication could be helpful.
Medication should only be for severe cases of separation anxiety in dogs.
If your Veterinarian does prescribe medication, continue to work with your dog. These medications will bring his anxiety down. With decreased anxiety, it may be possible for him to learn the exercises. These exercises decrease separation anxiety in dogs.
I’m sure none of us want our pooches on anti-anxiety medications long-term. Work with your Veterinarian on weaning him off of these. You can do this as he masters the training that reduces his separation anxiety.
Ask your Veterinarian about herbal or homeopathic treatments.
Natural supplements may help ease separation anxiety in dogs. Some of these are chamomile, valerian, and passionflower.
Also, speak with your Veterinarian about finding a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. Check out this article on Behavioral Help for you Pet. It explains which kind of professional might be best for you and your dog.
I’m sure we all know not to scold or punish your dog for having separation anxiety. So, remember that when you come home and find a pillow torn up or a wet spot on the floor. He is trying to cope with his anxiety and panic while you are gone.
The first thing you want to do to help your pooch is to rule out any possible medical issues.
Then start trying the tips offered in this article to help your dog deal with separation anxiety. Not all of these tips will work with every dog. It is up to you to try them out and find out which one works.
Training your dog not to respond anxiously when you get the keys out, for example, can take some time. It might even take weeks or months. Most of these solutions are not overnight fixes.
That’s because separation anxiety in dogs is not an easy problem.
Try out several of these tips at the same time. Consistently work with your dog with anxiety separation for a few weeks.
There are no easy fixes. If, after a month, you do not see any improvement, talk to your Veterinarian. Get her advice on a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or medication.