When most people adopt a dog from a shelter or purchase it from a breeder, they visualize themselves giving their new dog the best life possible. They imagine cuddling sessions on the couch, long walks in the park or on the beach, and lots and lots of time just hanging out watching television or doing nothing but bonding with their beloved animal. After all, the bond between dogs and people is powerful. It is so strong that even when a canine companion passes on, the love they feel for that precious pooch continues even after their pup has made their transition.
When you have a dog with pet anxiety or separation anxiety, things are a little bit different. They do bring love and compassion, and you can still do lots of fun and mentally stimulating activities with them. However, being loved by a dog with separation anxiety can be intense and stressful. They may howl, whine and bark whenever they’re separated from you for even a brief period of time. They may tear up furniture when they’re not around you. They may defecate and urinate in the house because they’re so anxious, and feel intense fear and anxiety whenever you leave the house or even leave the room. Being with out you – their favorite pack member – causes them to feel extreme pet anxiety. This anxiety is terrifying for them, and they can’t help but show their fear with negative behaviors.
According to the APSCA, separation anxiety is intense anxiety that is triggered whenever a dog is separated from its owner. It often leads to escape attempts out of doors or windows, household destruction (tearing up furniture, door panels, crates), house soiling, and more destructive behaviors. Separation anxiety impacts over 25-40 percent of all dogs each year and is one of the main reasons dogs are turned into shelters, simply because people have a hard time dealing with this condition. In this article, I’ll discuss my approach for treating separation anxiety in dogs. It may just be a whole lot easier than you think.
I’ve included my YouTube video on the topic if you’d prefer to watch, but I’ll dig into the details throughout the rest of the article.
Signs of Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Now that you understand that your dog’s suffering is not your fault, you may be wondering if your dog has full-blown dog separation anxiety or simply anxiety. In some cases, the anxiety may be related to an underlying medical issue. Consider the following issues and whether they are present in your pet:
- Howling, barking and whining when you’re not around
- Destructive chewing
- Housesoiling (defecating and urinating)
- Foaming at the mouth
- Following you from room to room and becoming stressed when you’re out of their line of sight
- Scratching at windows and doors when you leave
- Loss of appetite or refusal to eat treats when you’re away
If your dog experiences any of these symptoms, it is likely they have dog separation anxiety. However, to get a firm diagnosis, you may need to rule out other medical conditions that could cause similar symptoms. The only way to do this is to contact a qualified vet to run specialized tests to help you deal with the situation. After all, they are most suitable to help you find the best solution for your dog’s anxiety.
What Causes Dog Separation Anxiety?
All problem behaviour originates from a dog’s physiological, safety, belonging or confidence needs not being met. In the issue of separation anxiety we can rule out the problem behaviour originating from a physiological need. So it can derive from either safety, belonging or a confidence need. For example a dog may have separation anxiety because they do not feel safe (safety needs) when you leave not knowing if you will ever come back. Or a dog may even be confused to its place (belonging needs) in the pack and feel it has to protect you. Or it simply may be down to a lack of confidence.
How to Calm Dogs With Separation Anxiety Naturally
The good news is the advice is the same regardless of behaviour behind the need. The key here is to fulfill all the dog’s needs simultaneously by desensitizing your dog to your leaving and returning to the household. When you leave the house – and especially when you return – ignore your dog and avoid making eye contact with them. This will ensure that you are seen as the pack leader who doesn’t look and therefore need anyone’s help or permission when making decisions. Make sure to keep it casual and real – if your eyes are darting around your dog will notice, and they’ll know that you’re up to something.
To get them acclimated, start by walking around the home and back to the couch for short lessons. A dog suffering from separation anxiety will likely try to follow you on your way out. If this is the case don’t pay them attention or eye contact, just return and sit down. This will boost your dog’s confidence needs of the situation.
Repeat this behavior as a training technique, and of course over time and they will stop following you – realizing it is pointless to do so. Over time build up the lessons so you can walk out the front door and back in again. You will likely see that your dog quickly stops following you as you leave, and reacts significantly less when you return because their safety needs will be met with the knowledge that when you leave you quickly come back. If so, then you’re on the right track! Continue this procedure until your dog shows no stress when you leave, and no stress when you return. One day you may only be gone for 10 seconds and the next 12 seconds and the next 1 minute, etc. until you can return to your daily life without your dog getting anxious when you leave.
You may be surprised with how well this technique works, but hopefully by now you understand why it works. If you’re interested in learning more about the philosophy of dog training, my book goes into further detail.
FAQ Questions About Dog Separation Anxiety
Is dog separation anxiety my fault?
It is definitely not your fault that your dog has separation anxiety. Over 40% of dogs get dog separation anxiety and although some breeds are genetically prone to it, you didn’t cause it. Unfortunately, it is a condition that happens to many dogs. The good news is that there are strategies to fix it.
Are medications safe?
All medications have been tested on dogs and can work however, they can cause some side effects. Although the side effects are usually mild, they can still be bothersome. Therefore, it is important to try natural strategies first. Either way, keep your vet informed if you notice any side effects and never stop any drugs quickly or without your vet’s approval.
In conclusion, your dog is your life. You love them, and they love you unconditionally. However, dog separation anxiety can be a real issue that often causes your dog anxiety and can also cause you extreme stress and anxiety because you are worried about your dog. The good news is that although many dogs experience dog separation anxiety, there are proven things that you can do besides rehoming your dog.
Using the strategy discussed above you can encourage your dog to feel safe and secure whether you are with them or not. After all, no one wants their precious pooch to experience severe emotional distress or any anxiety whenever they are by themselves. Instead, we all want our canines to feel safe and secure.
Whatever you do, don’t give up on your pet. Help is all around you, and you and your dog are not the only ones experiencing this life-altering situation. Good luck to you and your dog. You will get through this situation – together.
By Nigel Reed