Separation anxiety can be quite a common symptom experienced by dogs and puppies. I have had dogs myself that I have rescued that have suffered from this but do not worry there are things you can do to help your beloved companions through it. I am going to share some information I have come across over time on how to cure separation anxiety in dogs, and what I have done to help my own dogs that have suffered with it, and hopefully you may find something that can be of help to you.
What are the symptoms of dog separation anxiety?
Dogs that fall victim to separation anxiety tend to show changes in their behaviour which can have effects on their mental health.
- Some of the symptoms can include barking or howling when you are absent from the home.
- Barking at visitors
- Whining and crying and becoming restless for no apparent reason
- Loss of appetite
- Trying to escape from the house
- Becoming destructive and in more severe cases showing signs of aggression.
What causes separation anxiety?
- Dogs are social animals, and see their human family as their pack mates, and they do not like their pack to be separated.
- Dogs can form a strong bond with the person they see as their leader and want to be with them constantly, and in their leaders absence they may become stressed.
- If you spend periods of time constantly with your dog, if off work or on holidays etc, then suddenly circumstances change, I.e. you go back to work or get a new job or just need to be away from the home, meaning your dog will be left alone for periods of time, your dog may show signs of separation anxiety.
- You may have taken in a rescue dog who quickly forms a bond with the person showing them love and affection, and when you leave them for anytime they may be scared you may not come back or someone else is going to take your place.
3 tips for things you can do to reduce chances or cure anxiety in your dog.
- Ignore your dog, this may sound harsh and I don’t mean completely, but when you are getting ready to go out sometimes your dog will be able to sense it, they may associate you putting on your coat and shoes or picking up a bag, or speaking to them telling them you won’t be long etc with the fact you are going to leave them, this can trigger their anxiety. If you ignore your dog before you leave maybe put your coat and shoes on in another room, or just mix up your routine before you go out this can help, also when you come back don’t make a big fuss just come into the house take off your coat shoes etc, and then when you are ready, give your dog some love, I will usually go straight through to the back door and open it for my dogs to go out when I get home and by the time they come back in I will have taken off my coat etc, and we just carry on as normal.
- Wear out your dog, a tired dog is calmer than an active dog, one of the best tips I have found is this, I take my dogs for a good walk if I’m going out, then they usually come back and settle down and most times don’t notice I have even gone out, and they generally sleep while i’m away, if you can’t walk them for any reason before you go out, play some games with them and wear them out that way, you will get the same result.
- In some cases you may try these things or other tips you have found and they just don’t work, in those cases you can seek the help of a dog behaviourist, I hired one for one of my rescues, that specialises in helping rescue dogs, and the information he gave me helped not only that dog but others I have had since, so was definitely worth it.
Our own experiences with separation anxiety.
My very first dog I had was a great dog, never had any issues with her, until suddenly one day I came home to find scratches on the wall by the front door, over the next few days it got worse until the wallpaper had been virtually stripped from that area, and I came home one day to hear her barking frantically as I came up the path.
I was baffled as to what may have suddenly caused this change in her behaviour, and it wasn’t until one day when I was at home upstairs that I realised the issue, when suddenly music began blasting really loudly through the wall from next door, as soon as it started I heard my dog start pacing up and down the hallway scratching at the door and barking, when she realised I was there she did calm down, and spoke to my neighbour who promised not to play the music so loud, but the problem persisted, with her every time she was left alone in the house and at the time we did not know what to do for her.
It was not long after that my friend found a dog running in the main road in front of where we worked, it was taken to the dogs home but no one claimed it so he decided to give it a home, unfortunately his other dog wasn’t so happy about his new house mate and they just did not get on, so to cut a long story short I bought him home to my house, this skinny little dog with hardly any fur became my girls soul mate and they were inseparable, and the destruction stopped.
Our second experience was when I took in a rescue Alaskan Malamute. He had not come from a great place, and he was quite withdrawn when I got him, I made the mistake of taking a week off from work when I got him to settle him in.
My first day back at work although he would only be left a couple of hours at a time as I worked below where I lived at the time, he started to destroy the house, firstly pacing back and forward and whining, then I could hear him scratching, within a week he had ruined the flooring in the hallway and the kitchen door, I tried a few things after researching online and eventually decided to contact a behaviourist.
He told me because I worked below where I lived to get a baby monitor with a good range on it and one that I could speak into as well as hear through, and he said as soon as you hear him make any noise just say one command to him do this every time you hear a noise and do not wait till he gets to the stage where he is stressed out and pacing, digging or whining.
I’m not going to lie I was dubious this would work, but for the sake of my floors and doors and most importantly the fact I didn’t want him to get hurt the next day I tried it.
It worked as soon as he heard my voice although I will say one thing I changed was that I didn’t use just one command I actually spoke to him and the sound of my voice seemed to work, within about half an hour I didn’t hear a peep out of him and after about 3 times of leaving him after that and doing the same he stopped altogether, it was amazing. Within a month I had new floors and doors and from that day on he was fine.
A few years later after moving to a different house that wasn’t near where I was working, I got another rescue, a Shar Pei he was very similar in he got stressed when I left home, so I thought I will try the same thing, this time I couldn’t use the baby monitor because I was out of the area, so I got a dog camera that I could talk into and also see what he was up to, i still used the same method of talking to him as I had my malamute, and again it worked, I have since passed this knowledge to quite a few people that were having similar issues and they have also had great results.
What to do next.
Separation anxiety is usually a result of insecurity in a dog, with regard to their owner, as dogs are social animals and require attention. But if the owner showers them with more love and attention than they need they will get used to it, and then if for any reason you cannot give them as much they can fall prey to separation anxiety.
Practice if you are at home leaving your dog randomly a few times each day, pop to the shop, or go to another room maybe upstairs or the garden. Increase the time as the days pass, then when you return ignore your dog do not make a fuss of them, just walk in and do what you would if you had just been out of the room for some reason this will get them used to you coming and going, most importantly they will learn that you are coming back.
Take your dog for a good long walk or a run if you know you are going to be going out, or as I mentioned before play some games with them to wear them out, this will then leave them tired and they may sleep while you are gone and not really notice the time you are away.
Try the baby monitor or dog camera method, I have created a separate post reviewing the camera I used for anyone that is interested here, this for me has been the most successful method, and as I said I hired a behaviourist who gave me this information so that can be another option for you if all else fails.
Above all, never lose your patience with your dog if you come home and find they have destroyed something, remember they are probably scared and stressed because the person they love most in the world has left them and in their minds, they do not know if they will return, your job is to make them feel secure and safe and know that you are going to be coming back and everything is OK.