Separation Anxiety in Dogs – Causes and How to Prevent it

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Does your dog worry when you go out of the home? Does he destroy stuff when you leave the house? And does he follow you from room to room when you are home?

All of these are symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs. And while some of them seem normal behavior for most dogs, like going nuts when you come back home, you have to pay closer attention.

Separation anxiety is a common behavioral problem in dogs, and if not treated and cared for, it can grow to severe levels.

Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit distress and behavior problems when you are not around, and they can include destructive chewing, howling, barking, urination and defecation, digging, and more.

What is separation anxiety?

Simply put, separation anxiety in dogs happens when an overly attached dog gets stressed when left alone. Veterinarians and dog experts have yet to fully understand why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety, and others do not.

However, their behavior is part of a panic response. He is not trying to punish you. Simply put, your dog wants you to come back home, and stay there forever if possible.

Separation anxiety can be a serious condition. It is also one of the many reasons why owners get frustrated with their dogs and give them away.

What causes and triggers separation anxiety?

Here are some possible triggers:

  • Being left alone for the first time
  • Change of ownership
  • Being left alone when accustomed to constant human contact
  • Suffering from a traumatic event
  • Moving from a shelter to a home
  • Change in the family routine
  • Change in family structure
  • Loss of family member
  • Loss of another pet in the family

Signs of separation anxiety

Some of the signs of separation anxiety, like going crazy when you come back home, are just normal canine behavioral signs.

Most dogs love it when you come back home and they are overly enthusiastic. But there are other signs of separation anxiety you should pay attention to. And the problem is, some of them are non-noticeable since you are not home to listen

  • Howling and barking
  • Whining to excess
  • Indoor accidents, despite being trained to do business outside
  • Chewing things
  • Digging holes and scratching at windows
  • Drooling or producing saliva more than usual
  • Trying to escape
  • Pacing, often in an obsessive pattern

Simulated vs. true dog separation anxiety

You have to make the difference between these two conditions. Simulated separation anxiety is often manifested when the dog lacks leadership and self-control.

On the other hand, true separation anxiety causes the dog to experience real stress.

When your dog suffers from simulated separation anxiety, he knows he will get attention from you if he behaves wrongly, badly, or improperly.

For these dogs, it is rewarding that you do something, even verbal punishment. It feels like they have been noticed.

With a gradual approach, simulated separation anxiety can be easy to overcome. True separation anxiety, on the other hand, requires a bit more effort.

Treating mild separation anxiety

Before you start treating separation anxiety, you should take your dog to the vet. He can rule out any medical issues. Sometimes, medical problems can cause separation anxiety, as dogs are known to hide their pain.

With that in mind, if the problem is mild, here is how to handle it.

  • Give your dog special treats when you leave home. You can use stuffed toys. Give these treats only when you are leaving, and take it when you come back home
  • Make coming and going a low-key activity without greeting
  • Leave recently worn clothes that carry your scent in his crate or in the home

Treating severe separation anxiety

If the problem is more serious, your dog might not get distracted by treats. You will have to work slowly and gradually to get to the solution.

Dogs with a severe case of separation anxiety get nervous when they notice signs you are about to leave. For example, they will go crazy when you put on your shoes or pick up your keys.  You can start using the following techniques.

Put on your shoes, but do not leave your home. Sit down at the table. Pick up your keys, and watch TV, and repeat it a few times per day.

When your dog is less nervous and anxious about these activities, slowly start leaving the home. For starters, you can go to the other side of the room. Then, you can go to the next room.

Slowly increase the amount of time you are gone. Tell your dog to stay while you are gone. Only you can judge when your dog is ready to be left alone for a longer period.

Another technique you can use is the come-back-treats method. Leave the home for a minute or two, and when you come back, give your dog a treat.

This way, your dog knows it will be rewarding when you come back home. Gradually increase the time you are gone.

If these techniques do not work, and you need more assistance, consider consulting a professional animal behavior specialist.

The importance of crate training

Crate training is the most important aspect of battling with separation anxiety in dogs. And in order to be successful when you are not home, you should start crate training while you are at home. Start with short periods.

Feed your dog in the crate, leave his bone to be used a stress relief, and try other things to build up the connection between the crate and your dog.

For example, you can try toys that are designed to keep your dog busy. Use these interactive toys when you are home, and your dog will use them when you are away.

One thing to note never put water in the crate. Things can get messy quickly. A crate is a safe place for your dog, one where he feels secure and enjoys spending time. Make sure the crate is big enough for him to stand upright.

It is also important that you do not leave your dog in the crate at all times when you are home. After all, he is part of the family and should feel as such.

Simple tricks to try

In addition to all the training techniques we talked about before, regarding treating separation anxiety in dogs, we want to give you some tricks you can also try.

Here is a quick breakdown.

  • Make sure to exercise your dog before you leave. A tired dog will have less energy and feel less anxious
  • Before you leave, give him a stuffed toy to keep him busy
  • Make the comings and goings calm and emotionless
  • Mix up parts of your routine before leaving the home so that his anxiety doesn’t build up. Do things differently each day
  • Tell your dog “I will be back” when you leave
  • Leave the radio or TV on, sometimes the sound helps them feel secure
  • Leave your clothes around the home so that your dog can smell your scent

Things that do not help

Some owners make the mistake of treating separation anxiety improperly. You can only do more harm than good.

Here are some mistakes you want to avoid:

  • Punishment, it can be counterproductive, and it is never effective for treating separation anxiety
  • Getting another dog, the logic says a companion might help, but in reality, a companion doesn’t help with anxiety. Their anxiety is because of their separation from you, and another dog will not make up for it
  • Obedience training doesn’t help as much, because separation anxiety is not the result of disobedience

Dog breeds prone to separation anxiety

Some breeds are more prone to separation anxiety than others. Usually, this applies to toy breeds and salon dogs that spend most of the time at home.

Herding dog breeds can also be prone to separation anxiety since it is in their natural instinct to be around someone.

With that in mind, here are some of the breeds that are most prone to this condition.

  • Border Collie
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • German Shepherd
  • Toy Poodle
  • Bichon Frise
  • Italian Greyhound

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

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