Have you ever returned home to find your house a complete mess. Your favorite shoes chewed up, furniture chewed on, or your dog has gone to the bedroom in the house.
It might mean that your dog needs to be taught polite house manners, but they could also be symptoms of distress. Your dog could be suffering from dog separation anxiety.
What Is Dog Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is triggered when a dog becomes upset because of separation from their master or the people they are most attached to. If your dog’s behavior starts showing signs of anxiety when you get ready to leave the house, they can be indications that your dog has separation anxiety.
Usually, right after a dog’s owner leaves a dog with separation anxiety, the dog will begin barking and displaying other distress behaviors almost immediately.
Signs Of Separation Anxiety
- Your dog might start to pace, pant and whine when he notices you putting on your shoes or coat or grabbing your keys.
- Urinating and defecating in your home while you are gone.
- Barking and howling the entire time you are away from home.
- Chewing on clothing, shoes, furniture anything they can find.
- Digging and destruction.
- Escaping – some dogs will go to extremes of trying to escape the house by chewing on doors, windows or trying to get through the windows. Escape attempts by dogs with separation anxiety are often extreme and can result in self-injury or household destruction.
- When you return home, your dog will act as though he hasn’t seen you in years.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
There is no exact evidence why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety, but far more dogs who have been adopted from shelters have this behavior problem than those who have been adopted to a family as a puppy. It is believed that loss of an important person or group of people in a dog’s life can lead to separation anxiety.
A change of the family dynamics can be a cause. Being abandoned, surrendered to a shelter or given to a new family may be associated with separation anxiety. Also, a death of a family member, a new birth or a child going away to college can be stressful.
Change in a schedule or family routine – a sudden change in a schedule in terms of when or how long a dog is left alone can trigger it. Examples of this could be a change in work. If you are usually home with your dog and after a prolonged period of time you going back to work, could be a cause.
Moving to a new location, even if the family members remain the same moving could be a trigger. A dog could feel lost being in a new home. Try to make sure they are feeling comfortable by having what is important to them around them. Toys, dog bed, and show them where the new location is for their bowls. Make sure to include them. Moving isn’t just stressful for you, but also for your dog.
Being returned to a shelter after initial adoption.
Puppyhood trauma, such as malnutrition.
Treating Seperation Anxiety Dogs
There is mild separation anxiety and there is moderate or severe. Depending on the type that your dog is experiencing will determine how you need to work with your dog to correct their behavior.
Mild Separation Anxiety – You will need to use counter conditioning. What you are trying to do is change a dog’s fearful, anxious or aggressive reaction to a pleasant relaxed situation. You will want to have your dog associate a fearful situation with something really good or something the dog loves. Eventually your dog will learn that something they fear actually precedes something good for them. It will teach them that being alone means good things like treats or good food.
Moderate or Severe Anxiety – This will require much more complex desensitization and counter conditioning program. You need to gradually accustom your dog to being alone by starting with short separations and gradually increase the duration of the separation over weeks of daily sessions. You should start with leaving them alone for only 2 minutes and stick with that for several weeks. Gradually you will keep lengthening the time. Work up to 5 minutes, then 15 minutes, and so forth.
You need to move very slowly to avoid them having fear or you could be starting all over.
As you are working on extending the time that your dog is alone, you could also have someone dog sit or take your dog to doggy day care.
Desensitization and counter conditioning should be done with guidance of a trained professional.
Other Things to Help Your Dog
There are many things you can do to help your dog be less stressed when you leave. Go over the following list and determine which could work best for you and your dog.
- Put your coat or shoes on or grab your keys and don’t leave for at least 15 minutes. Watch TV or sit at your table so they learn to stop associating you leaving with you shoes, coat or grabbing your keys. That will help them learn to not start pacing or whining when they see you doing these actions.
- Give them a treat or a toy to play with to distract them and create a positive association with you leaving. Great toys would be Kong with a treat inside or dog puzzles with treats. Both of these will take quite a bit of time to gain their reward and might keep them calm enough after you leave. This will only work for mild cases. Highly anxious dogs won’t usually eat when you aren’t home. They will also begin to consider it a positive instead of a negative.
- Hide treats around the house for them to find later. Positive reinforcement.
- Downplay your hellos and goodbyes. Keep the situation calm and don’t get emotional. If you have the need to kiss your dog goodbye (I know I do) and give them extra petting, do it 15-20 minutes before you actually leave. When you return, don’t get affectionate with your dog until they calm down.
- Exercise your dog for a good 30 minutes before you leave. This will help them be tired and more restful when you are gone. Many have said a good dog is a tired dog.
- Use a different door when you leave. A small change like this could help with your dog’s stress.
- Train your dog to be alone when you are in the house. Have them stay in one room and you go to a different room.
- Leave comfort items for them around the house. Your clothes with your scent work great.
- Leave TV, radio or an audio book playing when you leave. Hearing human voices help dogs to not feel so alone.
- Crate training. It can be helpful for dogs that have learned that the crate is a safe place for them. Test them with putting them in the crate when you are home and closely watch if they are showing any signs of stress.
- Dogs need physical activities as well as mental activities. If you keep you dog well stimulated with both, they will be more relaxed.
- Anti-anxiety medication. This is available as a prescription from your vet. In mild cases it might completely solve your issues, but in moderate to severe, you will still need to put the work in to reassure them that when you leave, you will be coming back again.
Where You Go Next
Now that you know what is dog separation anxiety, if you have a dog with separation anxiety, do not punish them for their anxious behaviors. They aren’t being disobedient, they are upset and trying to cope with being alone. If you discipline them, you are going to have a set back with them.
I strongly recommend if you have a pet with separation anxiety that you purchase one of the following two products. They will help you know what is going on when you aren’t at home, and how long before your dog’s anxiety kicks in.
RCA Pet Camera for Dogs – It has HD video, 2 way audio so you can talk with your dog and possibly calm them, night vision, motion and sound alerts, and a phone app to monitor and talk to your dog.
Petcube Bites Pet Camera – Video camera and two-way audio, night vision and treat dispenser. That means you can reward you dog for good behavior even when you aren’t at home.
Buy one of these now to help you know what is going on in your home when you aren’t there and to help calm your dog down by them hearing your voice.
Please leave questions and comments below and I will get back with you. I would love to hear what has worked for you and sharing your story could help others in the same situation as you.