Some dogs experience separation anxiety when they are left alone, either at home, in the car, at someone's house, etc. Separation Anxiety in dogs is a panic response that manifests as extreme destructive behaviors such as: scratching at doors and windows, constantly barking or howling, peeing or pooping in the home (even in potty trained dogs), and inappropriate chewing. Some separation anxiety behaviors can even result in dogs harming themselves.
Separation anxiety does not go away on its own. There are dog separation anxiety training exercises and solutions which may help alleviate your dog's stress. If your dog exhibits moderate to severe separation anxiety behaviors, you should seek guidance from a veterinarian board certified in animal behavior.
While no conclusive evidence has yet been found to understand why some dogs develop separation anxiety, several factors are thought to contribute to the behavior. Many dogs are sensitive to change and develop anxiety easily.
If you think your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, talk to your veterinarian to rule out any possible medical condition. If your dog is healthy and your veterinarian is board certified in animal behavior, work together to rule out other behavioral conditions. Once you know that separation anxiety is the culprit of your dog's behavior, you can start to work toward a solution with the help of your veterinarian.
Dog Separation Anxiety Solutions
The seriousness of your dog's separation anxiety will help you determine what types of solutions are best. The more serious the case, the more time and energy will be invested to help your dog. A few training tips, paired with a few dog separation anxiety solutions, may help reduce the severity of your dog's anxiety. Remember: if your dog tries to self-harm or harm another dog or person, seek treatment from a veterinarian board certified in animal behavior.
Dog Separation Anxiety Training
Teaching dog separation anxiety calming exercises to your pet is not the same as training polite behaviors like "sit” and "stay." Many anxious dogs have already been taught polite behaviors and then still panicked when left alone.
The goal of dog separation anxiety training is to condition your dog to remain calm during your absence without displaying anxious behaviors. These tips may help to ease your dog's anxiety:
- If your dog becomes anxious at your departure, practice coming and going from home quietly. The goal of this exercise is to disassociate certain actions with your absence. Normally, small actions like picking up your keys or putting on your shoes signal your dog that you are about to leave, triggering anxiety. With practice, your dog will learn that these actions are routine and don't necessarily mean that you are going anywhere. Practice getting ready multiple times per day over several days, tossing treats as you pick up your keys or put on shoes and not leaving the house. A veterinarian board certified in animal behavior can help you determine what actions trigger your dog's anxiety if you are unsure.
- When you do leave the house (and when you arrive home again), don't make it a big deal. An affectionate goodbye or an enthusiastic hello will only reinforce an anxious dog's behavior. When leaving, simply go about your routine and be on your way. When returning home, quietly say hi, move forward and find something else to do. Your dog will eventually grow calmer and stay calm if you refrain from an excited greeting.
Dog separation anxiety solutions can include tools and objects that will help your pet deal with the stress of separation. These solutions should be used to support – not replace – separation anxiety training.
- Calming pheromones and natural fragrances can help reduce anxiety. Many calming diffusers mimic neonatal pheromones that remind dogs of their mothers and the comfort of being a happy, secure puppy. Using a calming pheromone spray in or adding a diffuser to the room where your dog spends time alone can improve the atmosphere of the space. A calming collar lets your dog take those soothing pheromones on the go.
- Wearable anxiety solutions like the Thundershirt use physical stimulus to soothe anxious dogs. These dog separation anxiety solutions look like canine apparel but are in fact designed to provide constant, gentle pressure to your dog's body. This can calm the nervous system and alleviate anxiety while the solution is worn. Always condition your pet to wearing these solutions before you leave them alone. This allows you to monitor your pet's reaction and avoid creating another trigger that signals your absence.
- Treats and games can also be used to relieve stress and occupy an anxious dog. Chewing is a natural behavior that supports a number of functions including stress relief. Puzzles like treat-dispensing toys and games filled with healthy treats can keep your dog's mind active and focused on finding the solution rather than on your absence. Encourage your dog to chew on or play with appropriate items when you are away by reserving favorite toys and treats until you leave.
- Calming supplements can help relieve stress before it starts. Chewable tablets and water additives can be given to dogs either in anticipation of an anxiety attack or while the dog is anxious. Calming supplements are completely safe for your dog; many are made with natural ingredients.
These tips and tools are just a few ideas to help you start working with your dog on separation anxiety issues. For more details on training or medicinal solutions, consult a veterinarian board certified in animal behavior.