Two dogs sitting on grass

HOW TO HELP DOGS WITH SEPARATION ANXIETY

12/07/14

Separation anxiety can cause big problems for pets and the people who love them.

When dogs with separation anxiety become separated from the people they are attached to, they panic. These dogs exhibit behavioural problems and symptoms of distress when they are left alone. Dangerous activities like digging, chewing, and trying to escape can break teeth, damage gums, or cause injury to the paws.

Some of the most common symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • House soiling
  • Pacing
  • Chewing and destructive behaviour
  • Barking and howling
  • Digging and trying to escape

There are many telltale signs of separation anxiety:

  • When you’re home, your dog may follow you from room to room.
  • When you prepare to leave the house, your dog may become agitated, depressed, or anxious. Your dog may even try to prevent you from leaving.
  • When you return home, your dog greets you franticly. It’s as if he hasn’t seen you in days, even though you may only have been gone a short time.
  • If you come home to a mess, remember that your dog isn’t trying to get back at you by being spiteful. He’s just trying to cope with his extreme anxiety and stress. Punishment is never the answer. In fact, it could make the situation even worse.

What you can do to help

When your dog suffers from separation anxiety, it can break your heart to leave him home alone – but you must remember that the things you say and do may help fuel the fire. It’s important to handle the situation correctly.

First, before doing anything, see your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems or other causes for your dog’s behaviour. Once you have identified separation anxiety as the cause, you can help relieve your dog’s anxiety by teaching him that it’s okay to be away from you.

Here are some tips:

  • Come and go without a lot of drama. When you leave the house, say goodbye quietly and don’t make a fuss. When you come home, simply say hello and wait for your dog to calm down before acknowledging him further. Don’t appear overly excited, just pet him calmly.
  • Leave your scent behind. Before you go, give your dog an old t-shirt that you’ve recently worn or another piece of clothing that smells like you. Put it in your dog’s bed so he can cuddle up with it.
  • Leave a special treat or toy for your dog when you go. Eventually your dog will begin to associate your departure with good things. Puzzle toys stuffed with treats are a great option as they will keep your dog entertained for a long time. When you come home, take the toy and put it away so your dog will learn that he will only get access to it while you’re away.
  • Teach your dog to “sit” and “stay”. Teach your dog to follow these commands while you move to another room. Use positive reinforcement to reward him. Gradually increase the distance you go and the length of time you are gone.
  • Consider calming products to ease feelings of anxiety. Pheromone sprays and homeopathic remedies help many dogs relax and cope with stressful situations.
  • Create a safe place. Confine your dog to a single room or a small area of the house to control his destructive behaviors. Make sure there are windows in the area so he won’t feel isolated and give him plenty of distractions to keep him busy.
  • Keep your dog active, mentally and physically. Let your dog work off extra energy and satisfy his need to be busy. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, especially right before you leave the house.
  • Don’t think getting another pet will help. Your dog isn’t anxious because he’s alone, he’s anxious because he’s separated from you. Getting another pet for “company” won’t solve the problem.
  • Ask your vet about anti-anxiety medications. While these medications are not right for all dogs, they can be very helpful, especially in cases of severe separation anxiety.
  • Speak to a pet trainer or behaviourist. These professionals can teach you how to train and desensitize your dog. Remember however that you can’t move too fast or change things too drastically. Your dog must learn to accept each new step without experiencing anxiety.