How to alleviate dog separation anxiety


Separation Anxiety

Dogs are very social animals and live in family’s known as a “Pack”. A Pack consists of a structure. Dogs respect, follow and value this structure.

The Pack leader sets the rules, boundaries and limitations for the pack. All dogs are born with this understanding of leadership. Understanding this pack behaviour is the key to your dogs happiness and yours too!

In a family, your dog sees you as the pack leader. Your dog will look to you for guidance and instruction for appropriate behaviour. As a pack member it is not natural for a dog to be left alone. Long periods alone can cause high levels of stress of being separated from their pack members. Stress will often result in your pooch becoming very upset which may result in destructive behaviour, barking constantly, or urinating in the house, which are signs of Dog Separation Anxiety.

Dogs are not called man’s best friend for nothing! Dogs love nothing more than being part of the family and would be with you all the time if they could.  We do however need to leave them home alone at times. While we might imagine them enjoying the peace and quiet, they are more likely experiencing some level of separation anxiety. This type of anxiety is not only experienced by our four legged loved ones, but can often have an effect on owners as well. By lessening your dog’s separation anxiety it will also reduce your level of stress.

What is Dog Separation Anxiety?Dog separation anxiety

Like humans, dogs can suffer emotional conditions such as anxiety, sadness and depression just to name a few. It is anxiety that builds up and turns into visible stress. Your dog’s anxiety can vary from mild to severe. It can start with your ritual of getting ready to leave the house and be in full swing within 30 minutes. Dog separation anxiety is preventable and responds well when treated with positive training techniques and an understanding from you.


What causes Dog Separation Anxiety?

Does your perfectly happy pooch have Dog Separation Anxiety?  Here are some of the triggers of Dog Separation Anxiety:

  • A new home with a new family (Adopted dogs)
  • A traumatic event (a car accident or witnessing something traumatic)
  • Moving house (a new yard, new smells and an unfamiliar environment)
  • A change in household schedule (owners spending less time at home)
  • A change in routine due to shift work
  • Death or illness of a family member (human or animal companion)
  • A new baby or member in the house
  • Spending time in a boarding kennel or pet hotel, time being away from you
  • An overnight or prolonged stay at the Vet after surgery or illness
  • An underlying medical condition

Dogs that find themselves in the pound or rescue shelters are more prone to dog separation anxiety. This could be due to any one or all of the following:

  • Being re-homed into a new environment
  • Having multiple owners
  • Having a history of abandonment
  • Having a history of neglect or
  • Having a history of being mistreated

Rescued dogs usually make the most loyal of all companions. Adopting a dog from a shelter gives a dog a second chance to be in a loving family. You can build an amazing bond through trust with a mutual understanding.  You are not only providing a dog a second chance at happiness but it is also equally rewarding for you!

Signs & Symptoms of Dog Separation Anxiety

Dog separation anxiety

Dogs will act different whenever they sense a separation from their beloved owner. This will be noticeable every time their beloved owner leaves the house.They will pick up signs from you that you are about to leave and therefore leave them. These signs or cues can be as simple as you putting on your shoes or picking up your car keys.



Typical Behaviours of Dog Separation Anxiety

Typical behaviours of a loved pooch suffering from dog separation anxiety

Before you even leave the house!

  1. Follow you around excessively
  2. Pace up and down or in circles
  3. Excessive salivating
  4. Vomiting
  5. Whimpering

After you leave the house!

1.  Destructive chewingDog separation anxiety

This means chewing anything in sight. Wooden furniture is popular although the stuffing in cushions is always fun. Another favourite is shoes and clothes as these items have your scent on them. Other chewable treats include books, plants and even toilet paper which is always fun to come home to!

Glittery decorations on a Christmas tree may draw the attention of your distressed pooch. However there are some very serious things that dogs chew through. Electrical power cords have been known to cause death and dry wall plaster could result in a trip to the vet.

2. Barking and Howling

Barking and Howling all day won’t make you popular with the neighbours but remember they do it out of distress not to spite you. This also includes crying, whining or whimpering.

3.  Eating habits

You may find that your pooch has been visiting the pantry. This may be a sign of them looking for comfort food while you’re gone.  However another type of eating problem is that they lose their appetite and only eat when you return.

4. Toilet Accidents

Toilet problems or accidents in the house while you are away may also be an example of Dog Separation Anxiety.

5. Self Harm

More serious examples are self harm. This is where your beloved pooch will chew themselves until they pull lumps of fur out and make themselves bleed. Other signs are licking themselves constantly usually their paws. In extreme cases, panic attacks have been known to drive dogs to break through glass windows causing serious injury.Dog separation anxiety

6. Destructive behaviour

Destructive digging, remember dogs don’t know the difference between plants and weeds! Scratching at doors or windows or even ripping clothes off the clothesline. This might actually be fun for them but not so much fun for you!

7. Jumping

Dogs jumping on you or other family members and visitors when you return home. This can be dangerous if your dog is large.

8. Escaping

Some pooches may decide to escape and run away from home in order to find you.

Do any of these signs sound familiar? If your pooch displays any of the above behaviours while you are getting ready to leave the house and/or while you are not at home, then I know how frustrating these behaviours can be!  It’s not only frustrating and upsetting for you, but believe me, it is equally distressing for your pooch!

Trust me when I tell you that your dog is NOT behaving this way on purpose, or to spite you for leaving them alone. They are genuinely distressed. They may act sad or depressed, and mope around before you even leave the house. The only thing they want to do is to be with you and do something to please you. They want to feel part of the family as they love you unconditionally.

Helpful hints to alleviate Dog Separation Anxiety

What can you do to help your dog’s separation anxiety? What can be done so you don’t come home to chaos, but rather a relaxed and happy pooch?

Early identification is very important in alleviating dog separation anxiety.

Below are some tips to try if you suspect your dog has dog separation anxiety:

  1. Regular Exercise – One of the most popular solutions for dog separation anxiety is to play with your dog and walk him regularly. This will help tire him out and feel relaxed after exercise
  2. Practice leaving – without actually leaving! Start with the ritual of leaving, by picking up car keys and putting shoes on, walk to the door but don’t leave. Another strategy is to walk out a door you don’t normally leave by, wait one minute and walk back in.  If your dog doesn’t seem too concerned by this, try doing it for a little longer each time, gradually building up to a few hours. This will get him used to you leaving the house, and knowing that you will come back. This process could take a few days, a few weeks or a few months depending on the severity of your dog’s separation anxiety.
  3. Keep him occupied while you’re gone – Give him things to do to keep his mind active. This could be hiding treats around the house, or chew toys like a Kong that you can hide treats in. Your dog will spend hours engrossed in the search for treats, or extricating them from the chew toy.  This could provide hours of entertainment!!
  4. Toilet Stop – Take him outside to the toilet before you leave the house.
  5. Create a little noise – Leave a radio or TV on through the day for a little background noise. This will simulate the everyday noises associated with you actually being at home. You can even program the radio to come on and off at different intervals throughout the day.
  6. Give them a job – Using a cue phrase like “look after the house” or “be a good boy/girl” this gives them the cue that you are leaving.
  7. No Fuss Arrivals & Departure – Try not to be over the top with your goodbyes, this will only exacerbate your dog’s anxieties. On your return, it is perfectly normal for your pooch to be beside themselves with excitement. It is perfectly ok to say hello but don’t encourage their excitement for more than a couple of minutes.
  8. Puppy/Dog Proofing the house/yard – Remove and pick up any articles that they could chew, destroy or hurt themselves on. Simply closing doors to rooms you don’t want them in could prevent destruction or worse, injury!

Dog Separation AnxietyThe good news is dog separation anxiety can be cured. In most cases, understanding your dog, using training tips and tricks, and patience will remedy your dog’s separation anxiety.

In severe cases, you may need to seek advice from your vet or animal behaviourist.





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