Does your dog panic when you’re about to leave the house? Does your dog pace, growl and bark when left alone? Then, they probably have separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is often when a dog has become attached to a single individual (usually the owner) and panics or experiences severe anxiety when separated from the owner. Thus, the triggering factor for separation anxiety in dogs is separation from the owner or any human to whom the dog is attached.
This is a common condition and one that I experienced with my dog, Ruby, when she was a puppy which is why I’d like to answer some of the questions I had when I was trying to help her, as well as, some solutions that I used to calm her down and finally overcome separation anxiety.
What causes separation anxiety in dogs?
Several factors could cause your dog to experience separation anxiety. Some of these factors include:
• A new environment: a factor which causes separation anxiety in dogs is a new environment. If you move, your dog may not be accustomed to the new home and is likely to get anxious once you leave him alone.
• History of abuse or past trauma: Dogs who have experienced some form of trauma in the past are more likely to experience separation anxiety which is common in rescue dogs. In this case, their behavioral disorder is triggered by past events and fear. As such, they might construe your leaving as an indicator of further abuse, abandonment or trauma and then get anxious.
• Change in work schedule and routine: If you have been on leave or unemployed for a while, your dog may experience separation anxiety when you resume work. This is because they aren’t accustomed to being left alone at home or being separated from you.
• Death of the previous owner: If your dog’s previous owner died, there is every likelihood that your dog would experience separation anxiety. The loss of their previous owner would trigger a sense of fear and anxiety each time you try to leave the house.
How to identify separation anxiety
When dogs experience separation anxiety, they usually show symptoms of distress. As a pet owner, you have to watch out for signs of separation anxiety in your dog. Your dog may display several strange behaviors which you may chalk up to poor training or mood swings but are actually signs of separation anxiety. Some glaring indicators of separation anxiety in dogs include:
Does your dog destroy objects at home when you leave them alone? Do you come home to broken items strewn all over the floor or a chewed out remote? Then, your dog is probably suffering from a case of separation anxiety.
While some dogs are naturally disruptive or destructive, these behaviors may be pointing to separation anxiety especially if the dog only displays these destructive traits when left alone at home. A lot of dogs who suffer from separation anxiety go on a path of destruction and disruption as a result of the anxiety that they’re feeling.
Does your dog get agitated when you’re preparing to leave the house? Does it bark and howl or feel depressed? This is a very common sign of separation anxiety. A lot of dogs who suffer from separation anxiety get agitated once they see their owners leaving the house. They often show this agitation by barking loudly or howling. In some cases, they whine or get depressed.
If you notice signs of agitation in your dog each time you prepare to leave your home, then your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety and you need to take the necessary steps towards handling it.
Chewing and biting objects
A glaring sign of separation anxiety in dogs is chewing and biting objects. All dogs chew objects, especially shoes. However, this chewing is more obvious and aggravated in dogs who suffer from cases of separation anxiety.
Most dogs who have separation anxiety chew and scratch doors, window sills and couches. In some cases, they may try to dig a path through the doorway or other parts of the house. This chewing and digging are not usually exhibited in the presence of the pet owner. It is usually triggered by the owner’s absence or leaving.
Random defecation and urination
Defecation and urination at odd places in the house is often a sign of separation anxiety. While it is true that most dogs often urinate and defecate at odd parts of the house, it’s easy to set apart normal defecation and urination from defecation triggered by separation anxiety.
If your dog normally defecates at odd places in the house even in your presence, then they may not be suffering from separation anxiety. However, if they normally don’t defecate and soil the house randomly and only displays this behavior when left alone, then this may be an indicator of separation anxiety. In some cases, your dog may even eat their own poop after defecating.
Making efforts to escape
Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety often feel trapped or confined once their owner leaves the house. In some cases, they try to leave the arena and get to their owner. As such, they make several attempts to escape to leave their area of confinement. Their area of confinement may be a specific corner or part of the house or the house in general. If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, they may try to escape from the house at all costs. They may scratch and dig at the doors and windows and could end up hurting themselves.
Pacing back and forth
According to experts, pacing is often a sign of an anxiety disorder. When your dog paces back and forth in a methodical and insistent manner, they’re probably experiencing some form of anxiety. If this pacing is noticed only when you’re preparing to leave the house, it could be an indicator of separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a serious condition in dogs and is often a result of some sort of trauma in the past. However, there are ways to handle and take care of your dog if he is suffering from separation anxiety.
Solutions for Separation Anxiety
There are several ways to help your dog if they’re suffering from separation anxiety. Taking extra measures with your dog would help in alleviating their anxiety whenever you leave the house. Here are some ways through which you could help your dog with separation anxiety:
Don’t make a big deal when leaving the house
Dogs are very observant creatures. They often pick up on pre-departure cues. Pre-departure cues could include: getting dressed, picking up your keys, brushing your hair, putting on your shoes, etc. When your dog notices these cues, they alert them of your pending departure and in turn, would trigger his anxiety. Thus, you should try as much as possible not to make a big deal when you leave the house. Try to leave the house as non-conspicuously as possible. If possible, be discreet in your pre-departure preparations and then leave the house quietly.
Similarly, you can treat the anxiety which your dog feels when they notice pre-departure cues. One way of doing this is by training your dog to know that these cues aren’t always an indicator of departure. Once in a while, pick up your keys or put on your shoes without leaving the house. This would teach them that these actions don’t always indicate your departure and would lessen the amount of anxiety they feel when you prepare to leave the house.
Give big treats and rewards when leaving the house
For dogs with separation anxiety, giving them treats or rewards when you’re about to leave the house could soothe them. When leaving the house, give your dog rewards that would help soothe their anxiety. These rewards and treats could be their favorite food or toy. Over time, the rewards could calm their anxiety permanently. They would begin to associate your departure as a time for rewards or treats and actually look forward to it.
Have you ever been completely stressed out or anxious and then experienced the calming effects of aromatherapy? Well, aromatherapy is just as effective for dogs, too. When your dog is feeling stressed out or their anxiety has been triggered, the therapeutic use of essential oils can be a very calming tool for them. Dog aromatherapy can help in calming your dog’s terror and panic whenever he senses your impending departure.
Lavender oil and humidifiers are very effective aromatherapy tools that would not only calm your dog but relieve them of stress and anxiety.
Music for dogs
Just like aromatherapy, music has a calming effect on your dog. Music can reduce stress levels and calm your dog down making them feel better.
It’s important to note that animals hear sounds on a completely different frequency than we do and not all kinds of music can soothe their anxiety. You need to select the right music with the right rhythm, pitch, and frequency. I’ve seen how certain music actually gets Ruby very agitated.
Relax My Dog is a compilation of music fashioned to soothe your dog’s anxiety, calm them down and put them to sleep. Besides this channel, I recommend classical music. I’ve seen similar results with it and you might enjoy it more than the music designed specifically for dogs. Just search for your favorite classical musical artist on YouTube and watch how your dog starts to calm down.
When Ruby was experiencing separation anxiety I would leave on a 10-hour playlist from Relax My Dog playing while I was gone. I saw a big difference in how she coped with it and received me when I returned home with the music still on.
Crate training is a simple way of creating a safe haven for your dog when leaving them unsupervised. However, it can also be an effective tool for helping your dog with separation anxiety. The concept behind crate training is to create a feeling of safety for your dog.
Most dogs with separation anxiety feel unsafe and fearful when left alone. Therefore, the crate resembles the maternal den that the dog’s ancestors used to give birth and raise their pups until they were no longer defenseless. It’s a dog’s instinct to want to hide in a smaller place to feel safe or get away from it all.
However, dogs mostly live outdoors and crate training should not be a place where they spend most of their time. If you need a place of confinement for very long periods of time or for older rescue dogs, a playpen may be a better solution.
It’s important for your dog to see the crate as a safe and positive haven. As such, you should make the crate as comfortable as possible. Stuff it with their favorite toys and treats. This would encourage them to stay in the crate while training them. Take it slowly and carefully. Over time, your dog will build a relationship with their crate and it will help in reducing and relieving them of anxiety when you leave the house.
I crate trained Ruby especially for sleep time and now she knows the routine and goes straight in there every night. I’m really happy I trained her because now if there’s a thunderstorm, fireworks or just too many people at the house from a party, she goes to her crate on her own accord and feels safe.
Dog-proof the house
Dogs who experience separation anxiety are often destructive and disruptive. In most cases, they could hurt themselves or inflict injuries on themselves. You can help your dog who is suffering from separation anxiety by “dog proofing” your home. Dog-proofing is looking around the area of the house where your dog is normally left alone and removing objects that they could easily chew one if they get anxious or bored. Put away small objects or objects that could potentially harm your dog. like electrical cords. You could also get a dog proof couch cover that would protect your couch from your dog’s bite marks and remove pillows that are easily chewed up.
Have patience with your dog
Having an anxious or stressed dog can be nerve-racking. Most times, you could even get stressed out by your dog’s anxiety. However, it’s important that you don’t lose patience with your dog. Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety require an extra amount of patience and care. You should understand your dog’s situation and be extremely patient with them to try to reduce their anxiety as much as possible. Getting angry at them and yelling at them will only increase their anxiety.
Although separation anxiety is a common and crucial condition in dogs, it can be eliminated or reduced with the right amount of care, patience and necessary measures. If your dog experiences separation anxiety or any other anxiety, feel free to join our dog anxiety support group on Facebook and get advice from other people in our community to find solutions for your dog.