How to Relieve Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Many dogs struggle with separation anxiety for different reasons. Separation anxiety in dogs is a behavioral issue. In this post we’ll discuss what separation anxiety looks like and strategies to help relieve symptoms.

Why Do Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety

A dog can develop separation anxiety from boredom – not enough mental stimulation. Separation anxiety can also stem from traumatic events in a dog’s life such as being abandoned, abused or severe sickness.  A dog could have been removed from his mother at too young of age. The loss of a love one or big changes in a household can cause separation anxiety.

Some dogs are more prone to anxiety. A dog’s instinct is to be with their family members and when they can’t this may cause distress.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Signs of separation anxiety may include: aggressive behaviors, chewing-household items or shoes, peeing or pooping indoors, trying to escape through windows and doors or out of kennels. Signs might also include excessive barking, whining or howling, excessive drooling, panting, pacing, trembling or digging.

It’s important to keep in mind that your dog is not trying to misbehave- she is truly frightened of being alone. Any form of punishment will increase separation anxiety symptoms and will undo any work you have done with your dog.

If you suspect that any of the above symptoms may be illness related- you should consult with a veterinarian. Some of the above behaviors such as chewing or peeing in the house are normal developmental behaviors for young pups 0-6 months old.

How to Relieve Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Take your dog for a walk before leaving the house. A walk gets rid of excess energy, will help your dog relax and it gives your dog time to empty their bladder and bowels. People who take their dog for a walk before leaving the house will see their dog more at ease and less likely to be destructive when alone.

After your walk, let your dog have a rest and then feed her. Having a full belly will help her relax.

If your dog has destructive behaviors – put away garbage cans, food, medications, etc. You may want to section off an area for your dog just make sure it’s not too small of an area. Too small of space may cause anxiety.

If you are leaving your dog toys make sure these are quality toys made for aggressive chewers that you know will not come apart or become a choking hazard.  Best to check packaging instructions.

Quality dog toys I have bought for my dogs are the Chuckit! Ultra Ball or the Benebone Wishbone Dog Chew.  Some dog toy manufacturers such supervision- again check the packaging instructions.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is istockphoto-1127876900-612x612-1.jpgWhen I leave my dog I turn on meditation or easy listening music. Not too loud- just enough to be background noise.

Start by leaving for short periods of time.  To begin – start with 15 minutes, then a half hour, then an hour and so on.

When leaving be firm and brief. “Good bye, you’re going to be fine.” Give her a treat and out you go. Do not linger at the door or get emotional- this will stress your dog. When you are calm – your dog is calm.

Don’t sit in your vehicle – if your dog can hear or see you from a window this will prolong the leaving process and cause anxiety.

                                       Other Options

Another option you may want to consider is a doggie daycare which is great for exercise and socialization. Many daycares I have spoken with will help with training and social behaviors. Many doggie daycares have areas that allow free runs. Most daycares do not require that your dog attend daily so you can schedule 2-3 days a week for your dog rather than full time.

When considering a daycare for your dog do your research – look for experienced workers-ask other dog owners who they have used to care for their dogs. Visit daycare facilities, talk to the workers, ask for references from people who use their services or ask your vet. There are many good quality doggie daycares that have experienced, trained workers that are amazing with dogs.

A dog walker is another option. But again do your research – meet the workers, ask for references, ask around.

Another option to help ease separation anxiety is CBD oil made specifically for dogs. CBD oils are a safe, natural, no high alternative for dogs. Many CBD oils have Omega oils in them which helps with arthritis and joint pain. These oils can easily be put on a treat or in dog food. Again do your research, consult your vet and never administer more that the suggested dose for your dog’s weight.

In extreme cases of separation anxiety there are medications. I would suggest this be the absolute last option considered after trying all other options. If you and your veterinarian are considering medication for your dog- again do the research including short and long term side effects. Always administer the recommended amount for your dog-never increase a dog’s medication without consulting your vet first.

My Experience with Separation Anxiety

My 8 year old Shepherd cross – Archer has separation anxiety. His anxiety used to be a lot worse when we first adopted him – he was 11 months old- from the rescue. Archer was on fluoxetine for separation anxiety and aggression. He would bark, howl and chew. At one point he chewed the doors off of a couple of cupboards in my house. Anything left out -even on the counter would be chewed. I remember getting very frustrated and feeling at a loss of what to do with this pup.

I worked with Archer on his separation anxiety and weaned him off his medication 2 months after we adopted him. I reached out for help from vets, trainers, behaviorists, friends, family and neighbors. I did a lot of research. Not everything I tried worked for Archer but I learned what did work along the way.

Now when Archer sees I am getting ready to leave the house – he will follow me around, sometimes whine a little and occasionally paw at me. I go about my business and prepare to leave. I make sure garbage or anything chewable is out of reach and turn on some music.  I tell him I love him, I’ll be back soon. I give him a treat and leave.

So Archer still has separation anxiety but has improved a great deal. We have watched him on camera after I leave – he walks around a bit, jumps up onto his chair and eventually goes to sleep. I really think that he enjoys the quiet.

When I return he howls a bit and is clingy for a few minutes.  I give him pats, tell him he’s a good boy, that I missed him and I give him a treat. He will follow me around a bit and then goes outside. Archer has learned over time that I leave but I always come back and I am happy to see him when I return.

We never leave our dogs alone for too long 6-7 hours max. If by some chance we do have to be out longer we make arrangements with a friend to come to the house to relieve, feed and water our dogs. This is a friend that is familiar to our dogs.

Bottom Line

Man hugging his dog.

It can be very frustrating caring for a dog that suffers from separation anxiety. Always keep in mind when your dog acts out – she has spent hours waiting for you. You have a full day of running errands, working, visiting etc. Your dog has spent her day waiting for you. You are her world.

Our dogs look at us as family. When they see us leaving – we are leaving them behind. When you first start leaving your dog it will be difficult for both of you. Over time this will become easier. Your dog will look at your leaving as an everyday occurrence and be ok with your absence. Your dog will learn that you go out, you’re gone for a while but you always come back. And it’s ok.

If you have any questions or comments – please let me know in the comments below.

Thank you

Kathleen

“Dogs are miracle with paws.” — Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy. “A dog will teach you, unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad.”

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