Clawed off baseboards. Chewed off furniture. Ruined carpeting. Scratched off doors. Chewed off shoes.
Do these sound familiar? This article will discuss how to cure separation anxiety in dogs.
A few lucky owners have naturally well-behaved dogs that are not prone to separation anxiety and don’t have to deal with this. However, those ones that do can really stress out its owner. If this is you, keep reading!
It’s no fun to go home and see your couch torn to pieces or your baseboards torn off. This is speaking from experience.
Your dog’s anxiety level starts to rise the moment it realizes you’re going out without him or her and its when your pet begins to show symptoms of anxiety. When you’re out, it’s when your pet vents this anxiety through destructive behaviour which may, in extreme cases, result in self-harm such as broken teeth and injured paws. Separation anxiety goes beyond boredom – It is legitimate stress and it is bad for their physical and mental health.
Dogs are social animals. It is unnatural for them to not join their “pack” which is you and other members of the household.
Separation anxiety occurs more often in dogs that are:
- Younger though it also happens in older dogs
- Dogs that have been abandoned, rehomed or separated from a person or group they feel attached to
- Dogs that were adopted from shelters
When easing separation anxiety in dogs, the end goal is to make your dog comfortable in being alone and to make certain adjustments to make your dog at least be able to tolerate the situations that trigger anxiety and also by giving your dog things to do to keep him busy while you’re away.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
- Destructive behaviour
- Accidents in the house even if potty trained
- Pacing back and forth or in circles, almost obsessively
- Digging and chewing – attempting to escape. notably around doors and windows.
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- In extreme cases, self-mutilation
- Barking and whining as you prepare to leave
Causes of Separation Anxiety
- Change of residence
- Change of schedule or routine
- Dogs that were not socialized enough as a puppy
- Dogs that are recovering from illness
- Dogs that have lost a mate, a family member, a group or previously abandoned
- An over-privileged dog that is allowed to sleep on its owner’s bed
- An owner that allows the dog to dictate when it eats, walks, plays
A few things to rule out:
- Make sure your dog is properly house trained. Incorrect or incomplete house training can make your dog soil in the house or harsh training might make your dog afraid to eliminate while the owner is around
- Some medicines or medical conditions might cause your dog to urinate uncontrollably such as Cushing’s disease, kidney/bladder disease, urinary tract or even diabetes may affect normal urinary functions. Consult your vet to rule this out.
What you can do:
- You need to teach your dog to be relaxed in another room for short periods while you are home before you can expect him to be calm being alone in the house for longer. You can do this gradually over days or weeks. While your dog is alone in another room, give him something to keep him busy like a stuffed Kong or a safe chewing toy but take it away when you’re around.
- Play Dog Music while you’re away. You read that right. There is psychoacoustic music created specifically for dogs. It can be bought online but it can be found free on Spotify and Youtube. while you’re away. You read that right. There is psychoacoustic music created specifically for dogs. It can be bought online but it can be found free on Spotify and Youtube. You can play it on your computer or through Google Home or Alexa just before you leave the house. My personal favourite is the iCalmDog speaker. This device is relatively inexpensive and it also plays music for a host of other dog issues like aggression, phobias, etc… This type of music is very soothing even for humans. In fact, when they play it on rehoming centers, the rate of adoptions significantly go up. The research results of Dr. Susan’ Wagner’s Through A Dog’s Ear study (2004-2005) conducted with 150 dogs showed that classical piano arrangements induced peace in 85 percent of dogs in households. Additionally, music also helps to muffle sounds coming from outside the house which is another source of anxiety.
Stop your dog’s habit of looking out the window as this is guarding behavior. Interrupt this habit by closing the blinds. Dogs have natural guarding instincts. Closing the blinds will give your pet less to worry about while you’re away. It will also prevent your dog from barking at everything that moves outside the window
- The more space you allow your dog to roam around while he’s alone, the bigger the area your dog will feel he has to protect. This is again part of a dog’s natural guarding instincts. Minimize your dog’s burden by gradually reducing his access to the house while you’re away.
- If your dog sleeps in your room, gradually let him sleep in another area of the house. Letting your dog sleep in your room especially on your bed will naturally let your pet feel that you and he are in the same hierarchy, therefore, making your dog more difficult to train. It also causes separation anxiety. Giving them a separate room to sleep tells them that it is safe to be disconnected from you for periods of time.
- When you leave the house, make it easier for your pet to tolerate being alone by giving him something to do. Leave your pet with a frozen Kong stuffed with peanut butter or other treats to keep your dog busy but take it away when you get home. (not a Nylabone, if possible)
- A crate is a dog’s sanctuary. You can leave your dog in a crate if you won’t be away for more than a few hours but only if your dog’s separation anxiety is mild. Do not do this if his anxiety is severe because your dog might desperately try to escape and hurt himself.
- Bach’s homeopathic drops are particularly effective in soothing a dog’s anxiety.
- Discover 15 ways to naturally calm your dog.
- If your dog is already mature and still has anxiety, consider getting your dog a canine companion.
- Take your dog for a long walk before leaving the house. Ideally at the same time every day. A tired dog will tend to sleep when left alone and will probably awake by the time you get back depending on how long you were away. The benefits of exercising your dog go beyond easing anxiety.
- In the wild, dogs hunt in packs of 6 to 20. This is a part of a dog’s natural instinct. Domesticated dogs still have that instinct. This gives them anxiety because they do not understand why their “pack” keeps leaving the house without them. Don’t make it hard on your dog by petting and saying goodbye. This activity only provokes and intensifies your dog’s anxiety. Simply walk out. When leaving the house, make it a non-event. It seems cold but it has to be done. Same when you arrive home – simply walk in and wait a few minutes before you acknowledge your pet.
- Try to give your dog a high value treat like a piece of chicken before you leave. If your dog ignores it and continues to show anxious behaviour, you can assume your dog has severe separation anxiety. Do something you normally do before leaving the house like wearing your coat but instead, sit on the couch or use the computer. Do this multiple times during the day.
- Doing this slowly desensitizes your dog to anxiety. As your dog begins to look more and more comfortable and less anxious, you can gradually start to drop out of sight. Take your keys and wear your shoes and calmly exit the house and re-appear after a few seconds. Gradually build this up until you can disappear for a few minutes and until you feel your dog is calm enough for you to leave. Remember to wait a few minutes before you acknowledge your dog upon returning home and to take the kong away.