Does your dog get antsy when you prepare to leave the house? When you return, has our dog done something destructive?
Separation anxiety in dogs is a somewhat common behavior that can cause harm to your belongings or to your dog itself. It’s important to recognize that a dog that has separation anxiety is not purposefully being disobedient, they can’t help it.
Read below to learn the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs and what you can do to help your pup cope when you’re not around.
What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Separation anxiety in dogs occurs when your dog becomes distressed and frantic when you leave them alone. This often becomes destructive to your home or the dog themselves. Separation anxiety can occur if you only went out to get the mail, or if you’ve been at work all day. The length of duration is not important, the behavior is.
Some dogs will urinate or defecate in the house. Others growl, bark, chew, dig, look for ways to escape, or worse.
Many dogs will ignore snacks, food or even water when their owners are gone. And upon return, your dog may act as though they haven’t seen you in years.
Often, we try to teach our dogs that barking at new guests isn’t a nice behavior, so it may be upsetting to know they are at home, waking up the neighborhood when you’re away. But it’s important to remember that your dog is experiencing anxiety. It’s like a panic attack for a person. And just like a panic attack, there are ways that we can be trained to make the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs less burdensome.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
Dog separation anxiety is sometimes unknowingly encouraged by owners. When some people get a new puppy, the owner feels the need to take them around with them as much as possible. This helps to solidify the bond between pet and owner. But this also encourages dependency.
Dogs are naturally pack animals. When puppies are raised alongside their master at all times, they look to their master as a source of strength and comfort.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important that we teach our dogs that they will be safe when alone too. Without giving a new pup the opportunity to be alone, we are setting them up to have separation anxiety.
Though raising dogs alongside a family is not the only way a dog can develop separation anxiety. Sometimes a change in routine can cause anxiety. This can be triggered when a guardian spends more time out of the home, or when the dog’s schedule shifts.
Moving to a new home or having a family member move away can also trigger separation anxiety.
What Are Common Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Separation anxiety can manifest in many different forms. Here are a few common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs.
- Pacing – Pacing is common for dogs with separation anxiety. They will walk along a fixed path when separated. Some dogs will run in circles, others will run all through the house, some will zoom from window to window. This can happen without the owner being aware as most dogs won’t do it when the owner is home.
- Escaping – Some dogs try to escape from their confined area or even from their crate when their owner leaves. This behavior can lead to injury like broken teeth, cut paws or damaged nails.
- Howling or Barking – Dogs may bark or howl when separated from their owners. For apartment dwellers this may be a concern for neighbors.
- Chewing or Other Destruction – An anxious dog may start chewing, and depending on the object, this can lead to big problems. Chewing on door frames or furniture can cause destruction to the item or injury to the dog.
- Urination, Defecation or Coprophagia – Some dogs will soil the home when their owner leaves. Worse, some dogs develop coprophagia as well. This can in turn affect your dog’s overall health.
- Dog won’t eat- If your dog is not eating well, this could be caused by separation anxiety.
How to Reduce Separation Anxiety
As with any problem, it is best to fix the underlying issue first.
For dogs that only have mild separation anxiety, you may be able to turn your departure into a positive experience rather than an anxiety inducing one.
This is done by associating your departure with something pleasant. Over time, your dog will learn that your departure is actually a positive thing.
Something to try would be to give your dog a puzzle toy with a stuffed with a treat. Something like a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or banana is a nice treat for your dog to work on while you are out. You can also freeze the Kong to give your dog even more of a challenge.
It’s important though that you remove the toy as soon as you come home, that way your dog only associates the treat with times you are not around.
Remember, this trick only works for dogs that have mild separation anxiety. Dogs with more severe separation anxiety will not even bother eating while you are gone.
How to Deal with More Severe Separation Anxiety
It’s not easy, but dogs with severe separation anxiety can also be trained. The first step is to break their associations with you leaving. Many dogs start getting anxious when you cue to them that you are leaving.
One thing to try would be start your normal routine of leaving but don’t actually leave. Put on your shoes, grab your coat and keys, then take a seat. Maybe sit down at the kitchen table and have a snack. This will teach your dog that the normal cues of you leaving doesn’t actually mean that you’re going to be leaving. Your dog will start to forget that you putting your coat on means that you’re going to leave them alone.
The next step is to teach your dog that you can be out of their sight. You can have them sit in the bathroom while you hide behind the door. Start with a small amount of time and gradually increase this time. Next, you can start adding cues that you will be leaving like getting your shoes or coat on while you dog practices staying.
You should practice doing this multiple times a day, everyday. But never do these exercises back to back, you always want to have a few minutes between each session. By increasing the time you have your dog wait, you can help rid them of their negative associations with you leaving and help them overcome their anxiety.