It’s common for dogs to whine a little before you leave the house and exhibit some naughty dog behaviors while you’re away. But when they show signs of stress when left alone, they might be suffering from separation anxiety.
Canine separation anxiety is a common problem, especially among puppies and dogs rescued from being abandoned. They become hyper-attached to you or a family member, and experience mild to extreme stress when they’re left alone. This is a serious issue that dogs don’t just grow out of. Addressing it is crucial to avoid a host of health and behavior problems down the road.
Signs that Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
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Separation anxiety can manifest in different ways, but here are common signs to look out for:
Whining usually starts when they know you’re about to leave.
Howling & Barking
Dogs tend to vocalize when they’re anxious. If they’re not normally noisy but howl and bark while you’re away, they feel nervous about being away from you.
Drooling & Panting
Drooling and panting help dogs cool down, but if temperatures are low and they aren’t tired from physical exertion, it’s most likely a sign of stress.
Having accidents inside your home, even if they’ve been house-trained.
Scratching at doors and windows or chewing things up.
Obsessively walking back and forth with no obvious intentions.
Finding ways to leave the area where they’re confined. That might involve digging and chewing, which could lead to self-injury.
If your dog shows some of these signs when you’re away or even when they know you’re about to leave, they’re likely suffering from separation anxiety.
How to Address Separation Anxiety in Dogs
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Unless your dog’s separation anxiety is severe, it’s typically something you can help them with on your own. The safest and most effective way to do this is to train your dog to be alone through a program that combines desensitization and counterconditioning philosophies. Desensitization will help them realize that being apart from you is nothing to fear and counterconditioning helps them associate good feelings with being alone.
Follow these steps to help dogs with separation anxiety:
Step 1: Out-of-sight stays at an inside door.
To start, you’ll need a door inside your home, such as one that leads to your bedroom. Teach your dog to sit and stay, close the door, and leave them on the other side. After 5 seconds of being out of sight, open the door and praise them calmly. Slowly increase the time you’re out of sight so you can get them desensitized to your absence.
Step 2: Out-of-sight stays at exit door.
Once your dog is able to stay at the other side of the door for up to 30 minutes, start doing the same exercise at the exit door. Use the door you typically use to leave your home. Again, gradually increase the time you’re out of sight. This helps them get used to you leaving and also helps them realize that you always come back.
Step 3: Out-of-sight stays with departure cues.
Once your dog has gotten comfortable with longer out-of-sight stays at your exit door, add departure cues before you step out. That includes the things you usually do before you leave, such as putting your coat on or picking up your keys. Keep repeating this exercise and keep yourself out of sight for longer and longer periods until they no longer fear being alone.
Step 4: Counterconditioning
Part of helping them get over the fear of being apart from you is giving them ways to enjoy their solitude. One of the best ways to do this is to leave a toy in their bed or crate before you leave. For extra excitement, use a toy stuffed with peanut butter before you leave. Avoid bones altogether and make sure you use a durable toy that’s safe for them to play with even without supervision.
Having a special treat or toy to play with while you’re gone won’t just keep your dog occupied but also help stimulate their excitement. If you do this consistently, they’ll understand that they have something to look forward to whenever you leave.
Remember, you’re not meant to do this all at once. Treating separation anxiety takes weeks or even months. Observe your dog for stress cues and only do what they can comfortably handle.
Once you’ve gone through all three steps, all there is to it is consistency. Try to make every day the same as sticking to a routine will help manage their anxieties.
Other Tips to Help Dogs With Separation Anxiety
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To make your training program even more effective, here are other things you can try:
Engage in crate training.
Crate training is a means to give your dog a place of their own where they feel safe and calm.
Leave some puzzle toys.
Toys that engage their mental faculties can keep them occupied while you’re away.
Exercise before leaving.
Tiring them out before you go will ease their anxiety and help them rest while you’re gone.
Leave your scent.
Place one of your used shirts in their crate or bed before you go. Being able to sniff your scent while you’re away will give them comfort.
Seeking Help for Your Anxious Dog
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Treating separation anxiety isn’t always as straightforward as following a program. If you become overwhelmed or feel as if you can’t do it on your own, there are several ways you can seek help:
If you need to leave your dog for longer periods of time, they might feel calmer when there’s always someone around to keep them company and they have a chance to make friends and play with other dogs.
Certified Animal Behaviorist
Someone experienced in treating separation anxiety can create a customized program that addresses your dog’s specific needs.
For more severe cases, a veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medication and also check your dog for any possible underlying conditions.
Naturopaths can offer non-pharmaceutical ways to calm anxiety, including natural herbs and supplements.
It’s normal for dogs to want to be around you all the time. If they show signs of separation anxiety, however, they’ll need help with learning how to cope. Depending on the severity of your dog’s condition, treating separation anxiety might take a lot of time and effort. But, helping them become comfortable with being alone is crucial to raising a healthy and happy dog.