How to Ease Separation Anxiety in Dogs

By Sarah Hinds Friedl on January 27th, 2021

Separation anxiety in dogs is a challenge for novice and experienced dog owners, alike. Not only do you want to minimize household damage done by a nervous pup, but you also want to ensure that your furry friend is happy and relaxed while you’re away.

While easing severe separation anxiety can be a long process, learning more about the causes and common treatment methods can help you make steps in the right direction! 

What is separation anxiety in dogs and what are the signs?
As social and people-oriented animals, most dogs are likely to experience a little disappointment when they’re away from their favorite humans. But separation anxiety in dogs is not just mild sadness. It’s a severe state of agitation or distress that can lead to destructive and even dangerous behaviors whenever a dog is left alone.

The causes for separation anxiety in dogs often come down to your pooch having a hard time being alone. This could be the result of a recent transition from a shelter setting or from one family to another. Other possible causes include owners transitioning from working from home to an office setting, or a family member moving out of the house.

Some of the signs that a dog is experiencing separation anxiety could be:

  • Excessive howling, whining or barking
  • Destruction of furniture, carpets, and anything else your pup can get their chompers on
  • Pooping or peeing in the house, after your dog has been potty trained
  • Restlessness and pacing 
  • Chewing or licking themselves, to the point of harm
  • Escape attempts

Why is it so important to address separation anxiety in dogs?
Clearly, no dog owner wants their pup to suffer. But there are also real risks of leaving separation anxiety untreated.

One of the most dangerous aspects of separation anxiety in dogs includes escape attempts. Dogs may hurt themselves in a desperate attempt to wiggle their way out of the house or over the backyard fence. And, once they’re free, there’s a big chance of them getting lost.

For dogs who rely more on destructive habits inside the home, there is the risk of ingestion of materials like couch cushions, shoes, etc.

As you can see, easing your dog’s separation anxiety is not only a way to lower the risk of damage in your home, but it can also keep your pup out of dangerous situations.

What kinds of dogs suffer from separation anxiety?
Not only can all dogs develop separation anxiety, but it’s actually very common. In fact, according to the University of Illinois, an estimated 20-40% of all dogs who enter a vet office suffer from this condition

And, as with many canine behaviors, both genetics and environment can increase the risk for separation anxiety. In addition to some of the triggers we mentioned earlier, some breeds, such as German Shepherds and Border Collies, may be more prone to anxiety disorders than others. Of course, not all dogs within these groups will develop separation anxiety, but owners of these breeds should be on the lookout for signs.

What are some at-home treatments for separation anxiety?
Something that is important to remember about separation anxiety in dogs is that it’s not a case of your dog “punishing you” for leaving them alone. Instead, you might think of your dog’s destructive tendencies as a coping mechanism for theiheightened anxiety. Once you can find ways to ease that anxiety, they’ll be less likely to engage in unwanted behaviors.

So, how can you go about easing separation anxiety in dogs? Here are a few ideas:

  •  Up the exercise. If you can get your pup moving for at least an hour a day, especially before you leave them alone, you may notice that they’re ready to snooze through your absence.
  • Remember that slow transitions are easier. If you’re anticipating leaving your dog alone more in the near future, it’s a good idea to give your dog time to adapt to the change. Perhaps you can bring your dog along while you run errands or petition for your place of work to allow you to bring Fido in a few times a month. During this time, your pupper might be more anxious than usual, so make sure that your car is fitted with BreezeGuard Screens to keep them safe during your outings!
  • Distract your doggo. Mental stimulation is another great way to ease separation anxiety in dogs. By leaving your pup with fun puzzle games or signing them up for agility or obedience training on a regular basis, you’ll likely see an improvement in their overall wellbeing.
  • Try counterconditioning. This is a process in which you can get your dog more comfortable being alone with short sessions and plenty of rewards. This might start out by simply leaving your dog in a room for a few seconds and then giving them a treat when you return. You can gradually increase the amount of time you leave them alone, and also take your keys or wallet with you while you leave the room. Eventually, you should be able to leave your dog in the house while you go get the mail or take a lap around the block. It’s a slow process, but effective in rewiring your pup’s brain to associate your leaving with rewards.

Should you talk to your vet about your dog’s separation anxiety?
Whether your dog has mild symptoms or severe separation anxiety, your vet can help. They can make sure that your dog isn’t suffering from a medical condition with some of the same symptoms of separation anxiety.

Your vet may also be able to recommend treatment plans to help you ease your pup’s separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety in dogs is a challenge, but you can help your pup feel more relaxed at home!
As dog owners, we all want our dogs to be as comfortable as possible, especially when we can’t be there to take care of them. 

By learning more about separation anxiety in dogs and some effective treatment plans, you’re well on your way to easing your pup’s fears and leaving them alone without stress!

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