As dedicated pet parents it’s often difficult to leave our dogs at home alone - are our dogs eating and drinking normally? Are they making a mess at home? What if something happens to them? Just like us, our dogs can experience a similar kind of separation anxiety. But for a very anxious dog, separation anxiety can be a real cause for concern.
What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Dog anxiety is often triggered when our dogs become upset when separated from us. As their owners prepare to leave for work or run out for an errand, pets with separation anxiety become agitated, anxious or depressed.
Some dogs may even attempt to prevent their guardians from leaving - barking and displaying signs of stress like drooling or restlessness. When their guardian comes home, it’s as though they haven’t seen them in years! Some pet parents may even come home to a huge mess.
For many dog owners, it might be easy to confuse when your dog has bad separation anxiety with bad behaviour. In reality, this bad behaviour could in fact be symptoms of separation anxiety. Here are a few more:
- Urinating and defecating in the wrong areas
- Persistent barking and howling when left alone
- Destroying objects by chewing or digging
- Attempting to escape
- Pacing or walking around in a fixed, repetitive pattern
- Coprophagia - your dog might attempt to consume their own excrement
- Drooling and licking the ground or furniture
However, you might want to take these symptoms with a pinch of salt if your dog already exhibits these behaviours when you’re around. Using a good pet camera like PawBo+’s Wireless Interactive Pet Camera can help you monitor your pet’s behaviour when you’re not home, and also allow you to play and communicate with your pup when you’re not around, easing their anxiety to some extent.
Simulated vs True Separation Anxiety
Another thing to note is that there is a difference between simulated and true dog separation anxiety - in other words, your dog could be experiencing genuine stress in your absence (true), or he could be learning that bad behaviour gains your attention (simulated).
Regardless, the manner by which we handle simulated and real separation anxiety is similar - and the best dog separation anxiety solutions include a heavy dosage of training, to get your dog to enjoy or at the very least tolerate not having you or your attention for a period of time. If your dog has separation anxiety, here are three ways you can help them:
#1 Start Young
Many dogs develop separation anxiety from their puppyhood years. Just like human babies, puppies taken from their litter often cry when left alone - and instinctively, we might be tempted to pick them up or let them out of their crate to show them some love when they’re crying. In a way, we’re rewarding this behaviour. When training dogs from scratch, it’s important to always remember to only reward desirable behaviour, especially when our pups are still young.
From the get-go, puppy separation anxiety solutions often encourage owners to teach our puppies to have some patience. Get them to settle and be calm before letting them out or rewarding them; even when they’re out of their crate, pet parents don’t have to constantly interact or play with them. In fact, they shouldn’t, in order to teach their pup to learn how to entertain themselves.
#2 Designated Area
When we leave our pup alone, whether in their crate or in a designated area, it’s important to get your pet comfortable with their environment, especially before the first couple of attempts to leave them alone.
Let your pet explore their new space and learn the boundaries under supervision. That means consistency is of key importance for these training sessions - try not to move their crate or designated area, and try to make sure everyone in your family interacts with your pup in the same way when they’re in their area.
Help encourage them to develop positive associations for their crate, for instance, some owners feed their dogs their meals or treats while they’re in their crate. Leaving a comfortable bed like FuzzYard’s or an interactive toy like a KONG Wobbler stuffed with treats could also help alleviate stress when they’re in their designated spot.
Other things to help dogs with separation anxiety include trying not to provide any signs of leaving, at least for the first few times you leave them alone. But as your training progresses, you can try role-playing with your dog. E.g. going through your daily routine and leaving, but coming back right away. If certain actions like picking up your keys trigger major stress in your pet, keep performing the same action but don’t leave, this desensitizes them to the action.
Most importantly, greet your dog in a very calm manner when you get home - a pat on the head and a simple hello will suffice. Wait until he has calmed down and is in a more relaxed state before paying more attention. You could also ask him to perform simple sit commands to reduce his level of excitement. The time he takes to relax is dependent on his personality and level of anxiety.
#3 Obedience Training
A lot of separation anxiety stems from a lack of discipline, likely due to a lack of obedience training. For new pet parents in particular, it’s hard to know when to reward your pet and when not to - we may not even know that we could be rewarding the wrong things.
The best way to help dog with separation anxiety is to simply teach them tricks like sitting and laying down. Specific tricks like staying while you leave for short periods of time can also help to dramatically improve their behaviour - but only if you do this training regularly and consistently. It’s important to take small steps to teach your pet to have confidence.
Dog separation anxiety can be commonplace, especially with first-time dog owners. It’s difficult to understand when to give our pet attention and when to restrain ourselves. But rather than reprimanding them for their bad behaviour, it might benefit both you and your dog to understand where their bad behaviour is coming from and then training them accordingly.