Dogs Separation Anxiety - Common Symptoms and Treatment
One of the greatest joys of dog ownership is the tight bond we experience and encourage with our dogs. However, if your dog becomes too reliant or dependent on you, dog separation anxiety can occur when you and your dog are apart.
Separation anxiety in dogs is an enormous problem for around 10% of all puppies and older dogs. Somewhat ironically, problems related to separation anxiety are the major cause for dogs ending up in animal shelters. I wish I could say canine separation anxiety is an easy fixed, but in many cases it is a very difficult problem to overcome (hence this is the longest article on my website!).
Look At It From Your Dog's Perspective
To your dog you are the most important thing in his/her world. Dogs are pack animals who are very sociable creatures and thrive on company for many reasons
. Your dog would spend every bit of his life with you if he could. So it's only natural that when you go out, your dog experiences varying degrees of distress or anxiety. He becomes confused, doesn't know where you are going, why he can't be with you and if you will be coming back to him. When the two of you are separated all he wants is to be reunited with his pack - which is you
Punishment is NEVER the answer
to solving Separation Anxiety in dogs!
Does Your Dog Suffer From Separation Anxiety?
There's every chance your dog is suffering from a separation anxiety disorder rather than another dog behavior problem
- Your dog gets really worked up and anxious when you are preparing to leave the house. Actions such as picking up your car keys or putting on your coat can be enough to trigger the behavior.
- Your dog engages in inappropriate behavior only when you are separated. I expand on this topic further down the page, but behavior such as urinating inside, excessive barking and destructive behavior are common symptoms of canine separation anxiety.
- Your dog follows you everywhere you go and immediately becomes distressed if he can't be near you.
- When you arrive home your dog is over the top with his greeting and takes a while to calm down.
Why Do Dogs Experience Separation Anxiety?
There are many theories on this one. In some cases the cause or trigger can be pinpointed to a particular event, but often there appears to be no explanation for the dog separation anxiety to commence. What I can say is that separation anxiety in dogs regularly occurs:
- Straight after a change in routine. Such as your work hours changing or a family member leaving home. Remember dogs are creatures of habit and any changes can be very unsettling and confusing to them.
- If you have been on vacation or unemployed for some time and have been spending heaps of time with your dog. As a result of this when you go back to work your dog becomes anxious and distressed.
- Unfortunately dogs rescued from animal shelters contribute a highly disproportionate number of dog separation anxiety cases.
- After your dog experiences a traumatic event while on his own. If a thunderstorm lashes your home while your dog is alone, this can trigger separation anxiety in the future - your dog will associate your absence with the traumatic event.
- If your dog is rarely left alone and becomes overly reliant on his human family - Golden Retrievers are very susceptible to this type of separation anxiety in dogs.
- When you move house to a new neighborhood.
How Does Separation Anxiety In Dogs Manifest?
What Can You Do To Help Your
Dog Overcome Separation Anxiety?
Separation Anxiety Treatment
The treatment administered to your dog's separation anxiety problem depends on its cause and severity. A mild case of separation anxiety in dogs will be easily fixed by applying some of the proven methods listed below
. More severe cases will take lots of time, commitment and possibly a visit to your Vet for some medication. Commence these techniques as soon as you identify separation anxiety to be the problem.
The golden rule is that you must educate your dog to accept the fact that sometimes you will need to be apart from each other. The earlier you start getting your dog used to this fact, the easier it will be, for both of you.
- Ensure that your dog feels safe and comfortable when you are away from him. Provide plenty of fresh water and clean, warm bedding for your dog.
- Be sure to give your dog plenty of exercise when you are around. On leash walks, a run at the park with other dogs and some obedience training will all ensure your dog is happy and stimulated. Importantly it can also mean your dog will rest while you are out, instead of tearing up the garden.
- Provide some appealing dog toys to help occupy his time. Kongs stuffed with frozen treats are a favorite with my dogs.
"It's Your Job To Provide Your Dog With Everything Required To Ensure He Is Happy, Well Balanced & Worn Out!"
- Leave your dog a blanket or piece of clothing that has your scent on it. This may comfort a distressed dog - make sure it is something you don't mind being torn up though.
- Try feeding your dog his main meal just as you are leaving the house. You can also hide part of his meal around the yard, which will give him/her something to do while you are away.
- If you often have the radio on when at home, leave it on while you are away. This can be soothing and comforting in mild cases of separation anxiety in dogs.
- Some dog owners report that buying another puppy or cat can help reduce separation anxiety. I believe that this action may reduce boredom, but won't stop your dog from missing you when you are apart.
- Leave your dog in a safe and secure crate or kennel run. This has a two fold effect, it provides a comfortable "den like" area where your dog will feel comfortable, and it means your dog won't be able to act out many of the problem behaviors listed above. Be sure that your dog is completely happy in this area before you go and leave him for any length of time. I've never crated my dogs for separation anxiety treatment purposes, but many dog trainers and owners recommend this training technique. Crating your dog is not recommended for extended periods day in day out.
- Give your dog some obedience training. Teach and practice some basic obedience training commands like sit, down and stay. Be a strong leader or the "Alpha Dog" in your owner-dog relationship, your dog will respect and trust you for it. When you establish yourself as the trusted leader, your dog will respect your right to come and go as you please.
- Drop your puppy or dog off at a doggy day care center, to friends, neighbors or a family member's home.
- Some trainers recommend the use of No Bark collars. These are an effective tool for stopping excessive barking problems. If your dog is barking as a result of suffering from separation anxiety it is highly likely that the barking will cease, but the problem will surface through any number of other destructive behavioral problems. Not an option I would pursue for treating separation anxiety.
- I appreciate this one is difficult for many dog owners (including myself). Don't let your dog become too "clingy" and dependent on you every second you are together. Little by little teach your dog to be on his own when you are home. Put him in a crate, outside or just in the next room. Prove to him that it's not a bad thing to be separated from you, give him his favorite treat in another room and leave him there for a while. When he is quiet and calm go and give him some praise, make it clear you are happy with him. You can also practice your down stay obedience training command for this purpose.
- Pay little or no attention to your dog when preparing to leave the house. Ignore him for 10 minutes and then slip out the door with no fuss. Same thing when you arrive home, just go about your business for about 10 minutes, ignore your dog. When he is calm, you can initiate some contact with him. You don't want him to believe that his behavior (barking, whining etc.) has contributed to bringing you back home. Don't inadvertently reward his behavior by giving a big over the top greeting every time you arrive home.
The 4 Step Program I Used To Fix My Dalmation's Separation Anxiety Problem
My dalmation Harrison developed separation anxiety seemingly for no reason
when he was about 7 years old. He would start digging and crying as soon as I left the house, even if my other family members were home. My Veterinarian suggested this training process, it achieved the desired result but took plenty of time and patience
Aside from the 4 step program listed below, I continued to practice the general day to day duties of responsible dog ownership. By this I mean things like providing a safe and comfortable bed, plenty of exercise and obedience training.
Harry would start to get anxious (his whole body would shake) at the very first sign of me leaving the house. This typically would be putting my shoes on or turning off the TV or heater. It became a real problem for Harry, myself and the rest of my family, this is how we eventually solved it:
Step 1: Canine Separation Anxiety Treatment
Since Harry was always by my side when I was home I had to slowly teach him that he didn't always need to be close to me. I started out by ignoring his attention seeking behavior (jumping up, barking etc.) and then did some solid practice of his down stay. Little by little we extended the time and distance we spent apart, until he was happy to be alone for up to 30 minutes. Of course, we still spent lots of fun time together.
The next step was to get him used to being outside while I was inside. Again we started off with very small periods apart and gradually lengthened the time over a couple of weeks.
If you try this Separation Anxiety in dogs treatment make sure that you don't just leave your dog outside to get all worked up and stressed. The trick is to start out leaving your dog out for a few seconds, then going out and reuniting before he shows any signs of separation anxiety. Give your dog a treat or dog toy to keep his mind off missing you. Only initiate contact with your dog when he is calm and quiet.
The next step in fixing Harry's separation anxiety problem was to eliminate the distress caused by me getting ready to leave the house for work. What I did was write a list of all the triggers that started Harry's anxiety. I then set about desensitizing him to these triggers. I'd put my shoes on, and not go anywhere. Put my coat on, then sit down to read the paper. Pick up my car keys and just carry them around with me, jangling along as I went about my business. After a while (about 3 weeks) Harry barely offered a sideways glance at my shenanigans.
When Harry was completely calm in situations that would have unsettled him in the past, I left the house. At first I just stepped outside, shut the door and came back inside within 20 seconds - before he made a sound. Again this was a slow process, similar to step 2. I extended the time outside the front door and then graduated to starting the car, then driving around the block before I came back inside.
You can provide a tasty treat to your dog on your way out the door, something that he can work on for a while. Harry's favorite was a frozen Kong stuffed full of peanut butter and a few liver treats, this eventually kept him occupied for hours. Remember that when you return home, don't make a huge fuss. Come inside, get changed, pour yourself a nice hot coffee, then greet your calm dog.
This process did prove effective for me and my anxious dalmation. All up the 4 steps took about 5 weeks to work through and fix Harry's separation anxiety problem. My Vet suggested that I supplement this training with some medication. I didn't go down that path, but it would have been my next step had I required it.
Further information on treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs.
Another good article discussing the causes and effective treatment of canine separation anxiety utilizing a clicker.
Put a stop to your dog's behavior problems with positive, non violent but super effective training techniques.