Does your dog’s anxiety cause problems?
Perhaps when home alone, even for short periods, your dog shows anxious behaviours such as salivating, soiling, or destructive behaviour which are all classic symptoms of separation anxiety.
This is a serious behaviour problem which causes distress for the dog and dog owners alike. However, this condition needs careful handling, because get things wrong and the problem will make matters worse rather than better. Indeed, the gold standard is to seek the advice of a certified behaviourist to put an appropriate desensitization protocol in place.
But if you have an anxious dog then these top tips can help take the edge of their upset and help extend the amount of time they can be left alone.
How to Stop Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
- Shake up your leaving routine
- Slip out a different door
- Low key departures
- Make home a nice place to be
- Low key homecomings
- Reward quietness
- Resist the urge to comfort your canine
- Doggy distractions
- Watch your body language
- Plenty of exercise
- Stretch those apron strings
- Decrease the dog’s dependency on you
- Basic training
- Never punish the dog…no matter what the devastation
Which of the following are signs of separation anxiety in dogs?
- The dog that annoys the neighbours with constant barking when you’re out
- The hound that chews cushions or soils on the sofa in your absence
- The pooch that paws at the closed door so badly she damages her claws and recreates a scene from a cult slasher film like Driller Killer
Trick question! All of the above are clues that a dog experiences distress (also known as separation anxiety) when left alone.
What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Have you ever felt completely out of your depth?
Perhaps you were asked to give a speech in front of a room of strangers or gone for a job interview without preparing properly. Well, this type of anxiety is just a fraction of the deep insecurity some dogs feel when left alone.
Dogs with separation anxiety over-rely on their owner’s and lack the skills to cope when left alone even for short periods of time. Their deep-discomfort finds an outlet in displacement activities such as destructiveness, barking, or peeing.
How to Stop Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
There’s no ON-OFF switch for separation anxiety in dogs. It takes dedication, consistency, and patience to stretch those apron strings, but the following 15 steps can help.
#1: Shake Up your Leaving Routine
Do you always put your shoes on first, grab the car keys, and shrug on a coat…in that exact same order, every morning?
What you’re unwittingly doing is advertising to the dog that you’re about to leave. In the same way, we feel anxious ahead of an exam or a visit to the dentist, this needlessly ramps up the dog’s stress ahead of the actual event.
Treating a dog for separation anxiety means shaking up your routine so the dog doesn’t get a chance to get anxious in advance. Be a rebel and do things differently such as
- Wear outdoor shoes while watching TV
- Carry the car keys while you prepare a meal
- Wear a dressing gown instead of a coat
This is a simple form of desensitization which works by removing cues that get the dog worked up before you go. You get the idea…now get creative!
#2: Slip Out a Different Door
How to stop separation anxiety in dogs means being less predictable.
Try to shake up your routine. Don’t always leave by the same door. This is all about reducing the cues which make adrenaline flood the dog’s system and make him feel panicky.
#3: Low Key Departures
Which brings us to the right way to leave.
If you make a big fuss ahead of leaving the dog, he’ll interpret this as: “Gee, Mom is really upset about going out and leaving me. If she’s that sad then it must be bad. Heck, I’m not going to let her go. And if she does, I’ll scream so loud she hears me and comes back.”
Don’t make a big thing about going. The more casual and matter-of-fact you are, the less the dog can read into events. Indeed, in an ideal world just slip out unnoticed. In fact, distract the dog….
#4: Make Home A Nice Place to Be
When the dog feels safe and secure, he’ll be less anxious about being left.
Separation anxiety in dogs treatment means providing him with a safe den. Put one of your old t-shirts inside, so that it smells reassuringly of you.
Crate training is a good idea, however, be sure to do it right. Only leave the dog in the crate if he’s 100% happy there and won’t try to escape, or the crate becomes a prison. But the advantage is, when a dog is properly crate-trained he’ll feel protected there, which reduces his anxiety about being left.
Crates are great for separation anxiety at night, as the familiar, den-like place gives an extra sense of security.
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Use a plug-in diffuser, such as Adaptil, that gives of doggy pheromones. These are the same chemical messengers given off by a nursing mother dog that helps her pups feels content.
#5: Low Key Homecomings
When you come in the door, ignore the dog. Yep, that’s right. Don’t let those puppy dog eyes and whimpers call you over. If he’s crying, steal your heart and ignore him.
When, and only when the dog is quiet, then you can acknowledge him. This stops the dog thinking the only way to get attention is to be noisy.
Also, don’t make a big thing of coming home or you risk the dog thinking being left alone was a big thing. Play the homecoming casual and reduce the subtext of implications about how awful it was to have to leave him.
#6: Reward Quietness
One of the signs of separation anxiety in dogs is distress and asking for reassurance. The trouble is, when you fuss a crying dog, you reward this unwanted behaviour. Ironically, in the dog’s mind the lesson learned is “Crying gets me attention”, and a vicious circle develops.
Well, step off this merry go round by ignoring crying. Instead, make a point of praising the dog when he’s quiet.
If he’s resting in his bed, minding his own business, make a point of going over and praising him. This rewards his excellent behavior and tips the scales back in your favour.
#7: Resist the Urge to Comfort your Canine
In much the same way, you want to reassure a crying dog but don’t go there.
Your attention is a powerful reward. The dog will interpret this as meaning he was right to be worried, and sympathy makes matters worse, not better
So whilst it seems hard, dog separation anxiety solutions involve not acknowledging his upset for his own good in the long run.
#8: Doggy Distractions
Some of the physical signs of separation anxiety in dogs include a racing heart, panting, restlessness, and loss of bladder or bowel control.
Anxiety is a real and physical thing that causes the heart to race, a dry mouth, and shortness of breath. This is all down adrenaline and cortisol that go whizzing through the bloodstream when something triggers than anxiety.
But when you reduce the cues that tell a dog you’re leaving, it helps lower the unpleasant physiological effects such as the pounding heart.
So instead of the dog watching you leave and getting all worked up, distract him.
Offer him a super tasty treat and slip out the door while he’s occupied. Or offer a Kong stuffed with scrumptious food. In fact, put the stuffed Kong in the freezer first so the food is harder to get out. Indeed, puzzle toys filled with tasty treats such as peanut butter makes for a happy dog
#9: Watch your Body Language
On the subject of cues, watch your body language and take care not to act concerned about going. How you behave influences dog behaviour. Dogs are masterful at interpreting our body language, and will quickly pick up on the tension.
Even if you don’t feel it, act casual about leaving the dog like it’s no big deal.
#10: Plenty of Exercise
A bored dog or one brimful of energy is liable to look for entertainment. When left alone, the dog may resort to destructive behaviour or barking to alleviate the boredom. However, a dog that’s pleasantly tired after a good romp around the park, is more likely to settle for a snooze.
OK, so it’s not the whole answer to a dog with bad separation anxiety, but lots of little things can add up to make a big difference.
#11: Stretch those Apron Strings
Take stock of how much time you spend with the dog when you are home.
You may be surprised how little time apart there is. Heck, the dog even follows you to the bathroom.
How can you expect a dog that’s like your shadow, to be cool when you disappear for hours?
It’s important to slowly get him used to spending time without you. Make a start by not allowing the dog to accompany you into the kitchen. If necessary, use a child gate so that he can see you but not physically be at your feet. Vary the length of time you spend apart, even when at home.
Another great tip is to provide relaxing dog music because it may help to reduce your dog’s heart rate, as well as keep your pooch relaxed.
If you’d like to know where you can get the best sound therapy that is proven to soothe your dog, learn more here.
When he does at last settle in a different room, praise his great achievement so that he sees this as a great thing to do again.
#12: Decrease the Dog’s Dependency on You
Now think about all the things you do for the dog?
Ask yourself who walks the dog, who feeds him, and who grooms him.
If you do everything, then it’s no surprise the dog wants to be with you 24/7.
You may find this harder than the dog does, but it’s time to let other people into your four-legged life. Have friends or family feed the dog and walk him. Help the dog to see the world doesn’t end when you go because other people can look after him.
#13: Basic Training
Basic obedience training builds the dog’s confidence. This isn’t about being heavy-handed with the dog.
Use reward-based training methods to encourage your dog to learn to listen to you. This increases his sense of security and is a great distraction from worrying about life. Train regularly for a few minutes at a time, such as during the ad breaks in your favourite soap.
You can then practice having the dog “Sit” and “Stay” while you make a cuppa in the kitchen. Not only does this stretch the apron strings, but it’s a sneaky way of getting the dog to trust you. Then, when you act relaxed when leaving for work, the dog knows you are in control and if you aren’t worried then why should he be?
#14: Never Punish the Dog…No Matter What the Devastation
When you return home to find the sofa chewed and poop on the best rug…take a deep breath and stay calm. If you need to let off steam, go out into the garden and shout at a tree.
Punishing the dog will only make matters worse. He won’t link the punishment to the crime. Instead, it ramps up the anxiety about your return, wondering if you’re going to be in a good or bad mood. So not only does the dog feel bereft in your absence but he’s now conflicted about your return.
Just get on with the clear up, and cut the dog some slack.
One of the more extreme signs of separation anxiety in dogs is self-harm. If your dog gets so distressed he hurts himself or damages the house, then speak to your vet.
For severe separation anxiety in dogs, medication can really help alleviate the very real distress the dog feels. This doesn’t mean the dog will become addicted. Think of them as a tool to calm the dog while retraining him to cope home alone. Anti-anxiety medications do have a place when used appropriately and are something your vet can prescribe.
The Final Word on Dogs with Separation Anxiety
Helping a pet pal with separation anxiety takes time, effort, and commitment.
First, it’s crucial to recognize the signs of separation anxiety so that you don’t make matters worse by punishing a dog’s destructive behaviour.
Follow the 15 steps listed above will help reduce your dog’s separation anxiety, but always seek the help of a registered animal behaviourist if you feel out of your depth.