How to stop separation anxiety in dogs

There are a few things you can do to help stop your dog from developing separation anxiety.

2nd November 2021

Dogs are very social animals so it’s not surprising that some dogs become anxious when separated from their owners. It’s one of the most common issues that dog owners face because dogs love companionship, but there are a few things you can do to help stop your dog from developing separation anxiety.

What is separation anxiety?

Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety panic and become extremely distressed when they’re away from their owner and can start exhibiting destructive and frantic behaviours.

There are a few reasons why a dog might become anxious while left alone, from not being taught that being alone is normal to a change in routine. So, it can be avoided but if you think your dog is suffering from separation anxiety it’s best to speak to your vet.

Dog separation anxiety symptoms

While all dogs might bark as passers-by or chew things they’re not supposed to, a dog with separation anxiety can become incredibly distressed and you may notice some behavioural changes.

While some signs are hard to spot as they might occur while you’re out of the house, you might want to invest in a camera in order to record your pet’s behaviour once you leave.

Signs of anxiety in dogs:

  • Howling and barking
  • Excessive drooling
  • Scratching, destruction and chewing
  • Trembling and pacing
  • Toileting indoors
  • Self-mutilation
  • Coprophagia (eating their own excrement)

 

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Treating dog separation anxiety

Never punish your dog for exhibiting destructive behaviour as this could make things worse, here are some steps to take to help reduce the issue.

Some of these activities can also help if the problems are being caused by other factors, such as lack of physical and mental stimulation, not enough exercise, or barking and howling because of disturbances outside.

Desensitise your dog to “going away” signals

Your dog probably knows when you’re about to leave before you’ve opened the door. Putting your coat and shoes on, picking up car keys and saying goodbye are all cues that you’re about to leave your dog which will trigger their anxiety.

You’ll want to change these associations so that your dog remains calmer when you actually leave the house. Examples of how to do this are:

  • opening the door countless times but not leaving
  • picking up your keys and going to sit on the sofa
  • putting your shoes on and walking around the house.

Making sure these cues are repeated means that they lose their meaning and your dog won’t get as upset as before when you do it.

Provide background noise (with a human voice)

Leaving the radio or TV on while you’re out and about is a good idea, too. Not only does it help block out any disturbances from the outside, it can help them feel less alone as the sound of a human voice will help comfort them.

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Minimise disturbances

Just like a TV or radio helps muffle outside noise, closing the curtains or scheduling deliveries for when you’re at home can all help your dog remain settled and calm when home alone. Once they’re disturbed, they’re reminded of your absence which can lead to trouble.

Exercise your dog

Making sure your dog is exercised before you leave for the day is important. If your dog is tired, they’re likely to settle in their beds instead of clawing at the door. As well as physical exercise, mental stimulation will help keep your dog occupied, too.

It might be worth buying puzzle toys or creating a destruction box to keep your dog occupied throughout some of the day.

Build up your dog’s tolerance level

This can work well with a puppy but can sometimes help an older dog get used to your absence, too. You might want to book a week off work if you can. It’s simply making your puppy or dog used to being alone, either in a crate or a different room.

Leave for one minute, then four minutes, ten minutes, half an hour, two hours and so on. Repetition is key, just like with the going away signals.

Separation anxiety is a big behavioural problem so do speak to your vet if you think your dog is suffering from it as they’ll be able to provide recommendation on how to help reduce anxiety in your dog.

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