A lot of our lives have changed since the pandemic began. By now, our pets have already adjusted to our new lifestyles and routines. However, as things begin to open up and we inevitably spend more time away from home, our beloved pups will likely experience some stress.
For pups that suffer from separation anxiety, leaving them alone in the house can trigger distress, anxiety and a whole host of unwanted behaviours. So how do we manage a pup with separation anxiety? Let’s find out!
What is Separation Anxiety?
At its heart, dog separation anxiety is a form of anxiety in dogs that is a stress response which occurs when the people your dog has bonded with is away.
Dogs with a mild case of separation anxiety may be found pacing or whining when their owners are away. In more serious cases, dogs can damage household objects and even injure themselves while trying to escape. Some experts even compare the effects of separation anxiety to a human having a panic attack!
Signs of Separation Anxiety
Of course, a little bit of whimpering when you leave your dog home alone is to be expected - so it’s important to correctly identify when your dog has separation anxiety. Here are some common signs to look out for:
- Anxious behaviour like pacing, trembling or whining
- Excessive barking or howling
- Destroying things around the house by chewing or digging, especially around exits
- Potty accidents around the house
- Excessive drooling or panting
- Persistent attempts to escape
- Loss of appetite
Dogs with separation anxiety will likely exhibit the above symptoms when their owners/favourite humans are away or preparing to leave.
Simulated Separation Anxiety
It’s important to also note that some dogs may experience simulated separation anxiety - in which they exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety but not as a result of any actual anxiety.
Instead, they learn to behave badly as they have learned they can get your attention by doing so.
Avoid encouraging this behaviour by toning down your reaction to your pup when you leave or return home - for example, avoid being overly excited/sad when you leave or return home.
If you suspect your dog simply has simulated separation anxiety, you can gradually overcome it through crate training and consistent obedience training.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can develop in a dog for many reasons. However, some of the most common reasons for its development include:
- Changes in the family dynamic (death of a family member, divorce, or a member of the family moving out)
- Changes in their lifestyle (due to being rehomed, or moving
- Changes in their routine (often affected by a change in a pet owner’s routine)
Managing Separation Anxiety
Dealing with separation anxiety can take time and effort. If you do suspect that your pup has separation anxiety, consider sending your dog to a vet to rule out any other medical concerns. This way, you can safely focus your energy on helping to make it easier on your pup whenever you leave the home!
If you’re certain your pup is suffering from separation anxiety, make sure to take the right steps to help your dog manage it.
#1 Crate Training
Crates are an essential tool to have in your doggy toolkit. In fact, if used the right way, training your dog to use the crate can help improve your dog’s general obedience and happiness. The idea is to help your dog associate good experiences, treats and toys with their crate.
Start slow and allow your pup to spend longer and longer periods of time in their crate. Only allow your pup out when they are calm - this helps prevent you from rewarding needy or whiny behaviour. Adaptil’s Calm Behaviour Training Diffuser may help create a more soothing environment for your dog.
Of course, this training can also be performed using a separate room if you do not own an appropriate crate. Just be careful to ensure the room is dog-proof!
Another way to help manage your dog’s stress is through desensitization training. Similar to crate training, desensitizing your pup is all about teaching them to associate your absence with good rewards.
Some general steps you can follow include:
You can also mix up your routine whenever you leave the house - instead of always grabbing your keys last, try picking them up earlier in your routine. This way, your dog won’t be able to tell right away when you’re leaving.
On its own, dog exercise does not cure separation anxiety. However, it can help minimize the distress your dog may feel. If your dog is at an appropriate age and health condition for exercise, you can try bringing your pup for a long walk or playing with them before you leave the house.
A tired and contented dog will be more likely to settle down when you’re leaving the home.
Mental exercise with interactive toys like Nina Ottosson Dog Smart Interactive Dog Toy can also help occupy your pup’s mind when you’re outside, stimulating their minds and keeping them content.
#4 Medication, Supplements or Other Aids
If your dog is experiencing very severe separation anxiety and the methods you’ve tried to reduce your dog’s anxieties have not helped, consider sending them to a vet. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe some separation anxiety medication to soothe your dog when you’re away.
Aromatherapy remedies like Farm Dog Natural’s RELAX Stress & Anxiety Formula may also be helpful in calming your dog down when they are anxious. Other anxiety aids like the Thundershirt may help your pup feel less anxious when you’re away.
Separation Anxiety can be hard on both your pup and yourself. Leaving them alone at home is never fun and separation anxiety can really affect your pup’s quality of life. If you’re certain your dog has separation anxiety, it is 100% worth committing time and energy to addressing these issues so you and your dog can lead healthy, well-adjusted lifestyles!
Tammi is an avid writer, but especially loves learning and writing about animals! She spends her free time visiting cat cafes, playing video games and having plenty of cuddle time with her pup.