Several dog owners notice their dog’s demeanor changes when left home alone. Whining, barking, and other behaviors are common when a dog realizes a person they are attached to is leaving. However, some dogs experience these changes to a heightened degree. If this happens to be the case, they may be suffering from separation anxiety.
How to tell if your dog has separation anxiety
According to the ASPCA and the American Kennel Club, your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety if they engage in these behaviors when left alone at home:
- Excessive barking, howling, or whining
- Destructive behavior, like chewing furniture, or attempting to dig holes
- Urinating or defecating indoors, sometimes including coprophagia
- Excessive drooling, panting or whining
- Pacing around
- Attempts to escape a crate, room, or your home
These symptoms are distressing and may prompt dogs to hurt themselves as a result of their destructive actions and desperate attempts to escape. If your dog is experiencing these symptoms, read on to learn what you can do to ease their anxiety.
A dog’s separation anxiety comes from an association made between fear and being apart from their owner.
To counter-condition your dog, you must teach them to associate their time alone with good things, such as special food and toys. A great way to do this is by getting a puzzle toy and stuffing it with food your dog loves but would not usually receive.
It will take your dog time to finish eating as they chew and play with their toy, making this the perfect distraction to prevent them from stressing about your absence.
Make sure you only use this toy when you’re gone and remove it once you’ve returned; this way, your dog will understand that your absence means getting a special treat.
This simple type of counter-conditioning might not work if your dog suffers from severe separation anxiety, however. These dogs may require expert training via professional help.
Your dog should learn to feel comfortable being alone. To do so, you can slowly train them to tolerate separation.
For instance, you can start simply by being in a different room from them for a few minutes, gradually increasing the time you spend away as you proceed with more intervals.
When your dog becomes accustomed to not following you around the house, consider leaving the house altogether next.
Again, stay away for increasingly extended periods, but do so gradually. Never leave your dog unsupervised for too long; you can use a doggy-daycare or leave them with a family member for lengthier outings if necessary.
If you’re the owner of a dog who has severe separation anxiety, you may find that training is difficult for you to carry out.
When some dogs are stressed or experiencing separation anxiety, they can have destructive behavior patterns such as chewing on your furniture or digging up your garden.
Giving them a chew toy or treat, such as a bully stick, will help channel their energy away from your couch or flower beds. Chewing on bully sticks also has dental health benefits and can keep your dog occupied.
It is essential to provide your dog with opportunities for physical and mental exercise every day to decrease stress levels and improve their overall health.
If your dog has had enough exercise before you leave, they will have less energy to engage in destructive behavior while you’re gone.
Plan to take your dog for a walk or run, play games with them frequently, and allow them to interact with other dogs before your planned absences.
If your dog experiences severe separation anxiety and your veterinarian finds it appropriate, using medication can significantly help your dog cope.
Medication can make separation anxiety treatments work more efficiently and, depending on how severe your dog’s anxiety is, can work effectively on its own apart from other treatment(s). If you think your dog may need medication, consult your vet for proper diagnosis and advice.
Change your own behavior
Sometimes it’s your own behavior that can perpetuate a dog’s anxiety. If you have an anxious dog at home, it’s incredibly important for you to behave in a calm, soothing manner as often as possible when around them.
Whatever you do, never react negatively toward them for behaving anxiously. Dogs respond in this way as a means of dealing with their distress; punishing them may only make things worse for both of you.
Conversely, avoid giving your dog too much attention before leaving and reentering your home. You want to minimize the contrast between your departures and returns with periods of your absence.
Stick to neutral but caring interactions during these moments. Simple greetings are great, such as a quick pat on the head or a rub behind the ears.