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Separation anxiety in dogs

Dogs are very social animals who, if they were given the choice, would probably spend every waking moment in our company. Spending time alone doesn’t come naturally for our canine companions as they have lived alongside us humans for thousands of years, so they can often find it to be a stressful experience.

This can lead to separation-related behaviours but in order to help our dogs, we need to be able to understand what might be causing their distress.

Why do dogs develop separation anxiety?

There are several possible reasons as to why your dog might develop certain behaviours and identifying the triggers can help you know what to look for. Understanding the cause can also help you establish if changes in behaviour are more related to attention seeking rather than an anxiety issue.

Boredom

If your dog isn’t getting enough mental and physical stimulation, boredom might be contributing to their behaviour. A dog that’s content and provided with enough exercise is less likely to even notice you’ve left as they’ll be more interested in catching up on some well-needed rest.

Bored dogs might also decide to direct their energy to more destructive behaviour, like digging and chewing without feeling anxious at all.

Fear and anxiety

If your dog has experienced something negative that might have happened when they were alone, they will fear having to spend time by themselves which can lead to anxious behaviour.

Change in surroundings

From moving to a new house to the death of a loved one, the things that happen around us can have a big impact on our dogs, especially if this introduces a new routine they’re just not used to. It’s important to keep an eye on dogs that might have had a sudden change in their life to be sure they’re not at risk of developing any anxiety-related behaviours.

Separation anxiety and a global pandemic

The global pandemic has meant that many of us are at home a lot more than we might have been before and our dogs are getting used to this new routine.

Unfortunately, this means that when you leave the home as restrictions ease, or even moving between rooms, our dogs might be inclined to follow us or get distressed when they’re left behind. Being able to spot the signs of an anxious pooch will allow you to help them adjust to the time spent without you again.

What are the signs of separation anxiety in dogs?

You may know and recognise some of the most common signs of separation anxiety in dogs, such as destroying furniture and carpets or barking and howling, but there are other signs to look out for, too. These include:

  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Lip licking
  • Pinned-back ears
  • Yawning
  • Attempts to follow you or escape
  • Accidents in the home
  • Extreme excitement when you return
  • Trembling
  • Destroying items within the home
  • Barking, howling or whining

Treating and preventing dog separation anxiety

Never punish your dog for exhibiting destructive behaviour, 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 could 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, but it can also help them feel less alone as the sound of a human voice can help comfort them.

Here are some YouTube and Spotify playlists you could ask Alexa or similar devices to play while you are out:

https://pets.byspotify.com/ 

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.

Get a pet camera

There are several pet cameras on the market which allow owners to interact with their dog while they’re not at home. Each device varies and offers different features, but you might be able to find one that dispenses a treat for your pooch at the touch of a button or allows you to speak to your dog while listening in on them.

These cameras will allow you to check in on your dog throughout the day, without disrupting too much of their routine once they’ve settled.

Make use of your friends and family

Why not check with friends and family to see if you could gather a network of potential dog sitters who could pop by and check in on your dog while you’re out? Otherwise, let your neighbours know when you will be at the office and that you would appreciate it if they could let you know if they hear any barking.

For more top tips and guides, visit our dog advice pages.

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