August 5, 2022
How to Manage Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety?
You might have noticed your dog getting nervous as you prepare to leave the house. When you get home, they might rush around and jump up at you with joy. Or maybe you’ve returned to find your shoes destroyed, claw marks etched into the door, and a whole lot of mess.
These are all signs that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, where they don't want you to leave. And if you've never dealt with it before, it can seem overwhelming, and like it won't ever get better.
Don't worry, that's where we come in! Keep reading for our guide on separation anxiety in dogs and how you can manage it.
What Is Dog Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is when a dog that is highly-attached to its owner gets stressed. It's not a little bit of naughtiness when you're not there or some whining, it's severe stress. The first step is understanding why your dog is acting stressed.
Causes of separation anxiety can include:
- Change of ownership
- Adoption from a shelter to a home environment
- Being left alone for the first time
- Change in household routine
- The loss of a family member
It's a serious condition and can be a source of frustration in owners. But there are plenty of things you can do to manage the condition.
Signs Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
The main sign your dog has anxiety is the level of stress they show when you're about to leave or while you're out.
Some signs to watch for include:
- Whine, bark, or howl in excess
- Even though they're housebroken, they have accidents indoors
- Digging holes or chewing furniture
- Scratching at the doors and windows in excess
- Drooling, panting, and salivating more than normal
- Pacing in a repeated pattern
- Trying to escape or follow you
When you're with them, they will likely show none or very little of these signs. Occasionally, the average dog might do some of these things. A dog with separation anxiety will do them almost every time you leave them alone.
How to Ease Dog Separation Anxiety
It's frustrating to come home to a whirlwind of chaos, but what's worse is seeing your dog so distressed. Luckily, there are steps you can take to ease your dog’s separation anxiety.
1. Crate Training
When used right, the crate becomes a safe space for your dog. You want to use it to provide a quiet, relaxing, comfortable resting space; never punishment.
The trick is using your dog's favorite things (chew toys, treat-releasing puzzles). They encourage your dog to spend time in their crate and associate it with positive things.
Some dogs will show quick signs of feeling comfortable in their crate alone. Others could show worse symptoms, it's dependent on the individual dog.
You don't want to use it every day, all day though. It isn't a solution to separation. Instead, it's a tool to keep your dog comfortable while you're teaching him to enjoy some alone time. To learn about more benefits, read our top reasons to crate train.
For a dog to have good mental and physical health is teaching them to be comfortable in the world around them. They should also form positive associations for any new experiences or environments they encounter. This is especially true for the time they spend away from you.
Teach your dog there are rewards to being away from you. Start with short periods at a time. Then lengthen those periods as your dog gets more comfortable and relaxed. Don't overwhelm them all at once.
When they show signs of stress as you're leaving, counter it with their favorite treat. Now, only use that favorite treat for the important lesson rewards. This will help them associate it with training and learning.
If your dog gets their favorite, special treat before you go, they might come to look forward to you leaving. If the signs of stress come from what you do before you leave (putting on a coat, picking up keys, etc.) counter this too. Give them a treat as you're going through that routine, so it becomes a positive experience.
3. Ignore Their Clingy Behavior
Don't encourage or fuss over clingy behavior. Instead, it's better to start teaching a dog to be comfortable alone in a different room, even if you're home. Teaching a solid stay command also helps, start small and build up to your dog staying for several minutes.
Once they can do that, you can start leaving them in the room. With time and patience, your dog should stay for 10+ minutes with you out of sight.
Whenever you leave or return home, don't fuss your dog too much. Take out the emotions and keep a calm, positive demeanor. This way, your dog won't see you leaving and returning as a big event of the day.
If you do come home to damage or accidents, don't punish your dog. It won't help and will only add to their stress. Positive desensitization is the key.
Now, this won't fix separation anxiety but it's another tool to help prevent and treat it. Make sure your dog is getting the physical exercise it needs for its age and breed. This is especially important for larger breeds with more energy to burn.
A dog who has their walk and playtime, who is now tired and content, is more likely to settle when you leave. Make sure you offer mental exercise too. Training, puzzle-treat toys, and mental games will tire out your dog and keep them content.
Don't Let Separation Anxiety in Dogs Ruin Your Relationship
Separation anxiety in dogs is distressing for both the dog and the owner. But it doesn't have to be the end of a relationship. With time, patience, and the right training, your dog can learn to feel comfortable alone.
At NOW FRESH, we want all dogs to lead happy, healthy lives and for pet parents to be the best they can be. Be sure to check out our Good Reads for Dogs for more tips and information.