Does Your Dog Have Separation Anxiety?

February 15, 2021

Does Your Dog Have Separation Anxiety?

Does your dog bark every time you leave for work in the morning? Do you come back home to destruction in the form of furniture ruined, pillows bitten, and trash strewn all over the house? 

These dog behaviors aren't necessarily your pet misbehaving and acting up for the sake of it. Instead, these activities can be signs of stress in dogs or what is commonly known as dog separation anxiety. 

Unfortunately, obedience training doesn't stop the behavior or the anxiety causing it. There could be multiple reasons making your dog anxious and stressed. Below, we cover the reasons for this condition and your options for helping your pet get through it.

What Is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Dog separation anxiety is a condition where the pet becomes frantic and nervous when you leave. Generally, the stress in dogs swells either immediately or up to 30 minutes after the owner leaves the house. The animal may act out when they don't have another human or another animal in the same space, although two dogs may act up together when left alone. 

If you think that your puppy is suffering, you can ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you hear frantic yelps and barks as soon as you leave your home?
  • Do you come home to items destroyed or trash thrown around?
  • Do any training commands prove ineffective once you leave?
  • Do your neighbors complain about your dog howling or barking when you're away?

Why Do Dogs Have Separation Anxiety?

There's no simple reason to explain away dog separation anxiety. Each pup is unique, and you'll need to look into various factors to understand the dog distress. Some potential stressors include:

  • An underlying medical condition
  • An unexpected change in the environment, such as a new baby
  • A new move where the animal doesn't feel comfortable yet
  • The death of an owner or another pet
  • Long stretches of the pet being alone at home
  • Putting your pet in their cage or kennel for hours

As you can see, there are many potential causes. Even going to the vet's office more often can trigger your animal. Fortunately, dog behavior can change with training and patience. 

Boredom versus Anxiety

Of course, boredom could also be the cause, rather than anxiety. Both issues can lead to problematic dog behavior, including furniture chewing and excessive peeing. 

If you think boredom is the issue, there are a few things you can do, such as, 

  • Add an extra walk/exercise during the day.
  • Play fetch or tug-of-war.
  • Enroll your pet in obedience training.
  • Give your animal safe dog toys to play with while you're away.

Unfortunately, dog separation anxiety occurs regardless of these changes. The condition requires alternative techniques. You have a variety of options to choose from regarding dealing with stress in dogs. 

Getting a Medical Diagnosis

Before you start training, take your puppy to the vet. They could be dealing with a medical issue. For example, if you frequently come home to urine around the house, it could result from an untreated urinary tract infection, gastrointestinal disease, and or unknown pain. 

A medical check-up will let you know if there is an underlying issue that needs addressing. If nothing is physically amiss when you take your dog to the vet, it's time to deal with dog separation anxiety.  

Ways to Stop Separation Anxiety

Stopping dog separation anxiety will take patience, love, and thoughtful work. The process will take a while, and it will require you to look into and monitor your routines. You'll have to work to change it to accommodate your puppy. The goal is to desensitize them from triggers by modifying your behavior. 

While every situation is unique, there are a few methods to start. 

Training Your Dog to Be Alone

Within each training session, dedicate a portion of time to dealing with stress in dogs. The methods to get your pet used to you being away is simple. Follow the steps and pay close attention to your puppy's body language.  

  1. Step Outside Briefly, Then Step Inside, Then Outside Again: When first starting, avoid being out for an extended period. It allows your puppy's anxiety to start building. The recommended period to start is to go outside for 30 seconds or a minute. If the dog separation anxiety is severe, you'll only be able to go out for a few seconds. Upon stepping inside, give your pet a few minutes to settle down and relax. Once they've calmed down, step outside again. Repeat this step until all signs of stress, such as panting, drooling, pacing, yelping, and shuddering, have disappeared.
  2. Slowly Start Staying Out Longer: Once the initial signs have reduced in your puppy, it's time for you to start raising the stakes. In more extreme cases, go from one second to two to three and onwards. For mild cases, you can begin staying outside in larger increments of time. Plus, mix up the times that you spend out but never go above their max limit. Continue to play around with the time left until your pet seems comfortable in your absence.
  3. Test Out the Schedule Changes: As you gradually stay out longer, see how they work for your routine, animal, and dynamic. If the tips don't work and your pet is still anxious, consider moving onto the next steps.

Changing Up the Routine 

What's your routine when you're getting up in the morning? Most likely, it consists of getting dressed and grabbing your keys as you walk out the door. Canines are hyper aware of their owners, so they probably know your routines just as well as you do. If they're dealing with dog separation anxiety, the nerves will build from the minute they see you getting ready. 

The action of you walking out the door acts as the final climax of stress in dogs. The moment your alarm goes off or you step into the shower is the real beginning. In some cases, your puppy will be going through a panic attack before you step out the door. 

Fortunately, you can quell their anxiety by doing random steps of your morning routine throughout the day. Instead of showering at the crack of dawn, consider showering the previous night. Put on your coat and grab your keys to sit inside and watch TV. After a couple of weeks, your dog should stop associating your activities with your departure. 

Not Making a Big Deal Out of Leaving 

If you lavish your dog with kisses, hugs, or other displays of affection right before you leave for the day, you're not alone. While common, attention can contribute to their anxiety. The solution for this is simple: ignore your dog before you leave and for a bit after your return. At first, it'll be difficult to stop, but considering your pup's health will help. 

Systematic desensitization involves taking small steps to gradually allow your pup to feel comfortable and safe at home when you are gone.  Through the training, you're teaching your canine that patient, calm, and relaxed dog behavior is acceptable. 

Once the animal does settle down and relax, you can give them attention. Encourage quiet behavior by providing snacks whenever your pup spontaneously goes to their bed or crate on their own.  

Seeking Additional Resources

In most moderate cases, the above tips will be enough to help reduce stress in dogs. However, if your canine has more intense nerves, you'll need to put in more leg work and seek additional resources.

Sometimes that's taking vacation time so that you can work on training the animal. Other options are hiring a pet sitter or enrolling the pup in daycare. 

Avoid crating your animal during this time unless their cage is a place of relaxation and comfort. Unnecessary crating can exacerbate the dog distress. 

Professional Treatment for Dog Distress

In some cases, you change your schedule, dedicate weeks to specific training, and still see no changes. At this point, you'll need to seek further professional help. Before anything else, take your puppy to a veterinary clinic. Discuss the dog behavior with your vet and then follow their advice. Sometimes, you'll get medication to give your pet along with the training. 

The medicine can help your animal relax so that they can focus on learning. The medical behavior is only to facilitate behavioral therapy. In addition to the prescription, you'll want to seek the help of a dog trainer or behavioral therapist. 

Conclusion

Dog separation anxiety can be a natural reaction or an indication of an underlying cause. But no matter the reason, you want to practice patience and consistency to help with the dog distress. You're helping your animal overcome an anxiety disorder. With time and love, things will improve. 

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