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How to Deal with Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety

One of the most common problems pet parents are faced with is their dog partaking in disruptive or destructive behaviour when left alone. Digging, chewing, destruction, barking, howling, urinating, pacing, escaping… sound familiar? Now to an extent these actions are normal, and often simply indicate that perhaps your dog may just need another lesson in polite house manners, however they could also be signs of a much bigger problem. When your dog’s strange behaviours are accompanied by other distress indicators, such as drooling or panting, signs of stress/anxiety when you’re getting ready to leave the house, difficult to house train, or doesn’t know which toys are theirs to chew, are very strong indicators that your dog may have separation anxiety. If you fear that your dog may have separation anxiety, or you want to ensure your pooch is never faced with this heart-breaking problem, read on and understand how it begins, the symptoms, and how you can put an end to separation anxiety in your dog for good.

pug

How Separation Anxiety in Dogs Starts

There is no conclusive evidence that shows exactly why dogs develop separation anxiety. However, there has been noted some convincing patterns, amongst dogs with separation anxiety symptoms, for the many reasons this problem could have been triggered. The following is a list of situations that have been associated with development of separation anxiety.

Change of Owner/Relinquishment

Being abandoned or surrendered to a shelter, or given to a new owner can be a very upsetting and traumatic time for a dog. Due to the fear of it happening again, dogs who didn’t cope well during the change-over process will often develop separation anxiety.

Change in Schedule

An abrupt change in schedule that results in a dog being left alone can trigger the development of separation anxiety. For example, if they are use to their owner being home most of the day and spend a lot of time together, to suddenly change where they are left home along for six or more hours at a time.

Change in Residence

Moving home or visiting unfamiliar places can trigger the development of separation anxiety. Most dogs prefer routine and comfort, and don’t always cope well when faced with a significant and sudden change.

Change in Household Membership

Dogs very quickly come to realise who’s going to be there when they wake up in the mornings, and go to sleep at night. So, if a sudden absence of a resident member of their home, either due to death or moving away, or even a new addition to their space, can trigger the development of separation anxiety.

sad dog

Common Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

All dogs throughout their lives can get up to a bit of mischief, and do some pretty strange things. However, when these abnormal activities are done on a consistent basis, and more importantly when you’re not around, is a strong indication that their behaviours are due to a much more serious problem. The following is a list of symptoms that may indicate your dog has separation anxiety:

Chewing, Digging & Destruction

Some dogs with separation anxiety will chew on objects they know aren’t theirs to chew, such as door frames, bench tops, furniture etc. They may also dig at, jump on or destroy household objects. (See images below that have been used across social media as humours memes, however should be indicating a much more serious message). What’s worse is that these behaviours can result in injury, such as broken teeth, cut paws or damaged nails. Generally, if their destructive behaviours are done when you’re not home, it’s a result of separation anxiety.

destruction

Barking & Howling

A dog who has separation anxiety might bark or howl when left alone, or when separated from their owner. This kind of barking and howling is persistent and doesn’t seem to be triggered by anything in particular, e.g. another animal, seeing a stranger etc., but simply because they are left alone.

Urinating & Defecating

If a dog urinates or defecates in an unusual spot in front of their owner, this probably isn’t caused by separation anxiety, but more so for attention, or not yet house trained. However, if they are doing so when you’re not home, in places they know very well are a pee and poop free zone, is a strong indication that they are doing so due to separation anxiety.

Pacing

Now this may be a bit more difficult to determine, as if they are pacing, it’s got to be done when you’re not around to be considered a symptom of separation anxiety. Some dogs walk or trot along a specific path in a fixed pattern when left alone. And some may even move around in circular patterns, while others walk back and forth in straight lines. If you’re concerned your dog is doing this, ask your neighbour to pop their head over your fence while you’re out and see what they’re up to.

Escaping

If you’re not home and your dog is escaping from an area that is confined or secure, this is most likely a result of separation anxiety. It’s also important to note the state of the area of escape, if it appears desperation and urgency has occurred to break-free, this is also another strong indication they are escaping due to separation anxiety, oppose to boredom or fun.

lonely dog

How to Overcome Separation Anxiety in Dogs

At the end of the day, a big part of pet ownership is being able to overcome hurdles and make changes to ensure that everyone in the family is living a happy and healthy life. If you think your pet has separation anxiety or your vet has diagnosed them officially, the most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and there are many simple changed and things you can do help your beloved fur-friend. The following is a list of things you can do to not only help and overcome your dog’s separation anxiety, but also prevent it from happening in the first place.

Routine & Training

Routine and discipline isn’t something that can happen overnight, nor is it something that will stick if only done a handful of times. Show your dog what you want from them in and around the house, and during daily routines. Taking them on a morning or afternoon walk is great, but also try include training as you go, such as sitting at curb sides before crossing the road. Teach them to sit before you give them their food, or lie down at the door when you go outside to wash the car. Encourage them to sit and wait to be greeted by guests, sit in bed while the family is eating dinner, and go to the toilet when they first wake up and just before bed. In general, any little bit of routine and discipline is a step in showing your dog how to be respectful and have confidence in themselves.

Entertainment & Mental Stimulation

Providing your dog plenty of physical and mental stimulation is a vital part of treating many behavioural problems, especially those involving anxiety. Exercising their body and mind can greatly enrich their life, help decrease stress and anxiety, and provide an outlet for normal dog behaviours. To keep your dog busy and happy, try the following suggestions:

  • Give them at least 30 mins of aerobic activity and if possible do it close to when you are going to leave them by themselves
  • When you’re home, play games, cuddle and hang out with them
  • Take them on daily outings and let them visit new places with new people
  • Take them to dog parks and let them run free of the leash with their canine friends
  • Provide them with toys and activities that keep them busy (a KONG Classic filled with bit of natural peanut butter will have them chewing for hours)
  • Encourage them to ‘hunt’ around your yard with hiding treats when you leave

walking

Change Your Routine

In order to change your dog’s habits, you may need to change a few of your own. For example, when you leave, use a different door, reorder the way you do things, or put your bag in a different place. And when you’re at home, things like watching TV or working on the computer where your dog sits at your feet and follows your every move, stop this. If you stand up and they get up every time you do, simply sit back down again. Your dog does not need to and should not be following you everywhere. Overall, you’re changing your habits to create a different picture and eliminate any predictably, which will help teach them to have the self-confidence they need to handle being alone.

Crate Training

Crate training can be really helpful for some dogs if they learn that the crate is their safe place to go to when left alone. Please note that for some dogs this can be the complete opposite and cause even more stress and anxiety. The best way to know if your dog would benefit from a crate is to monitor their behaviour during crate training, and how they act around the crate while you are at home. If they voluntarily hop in, a crate may be the way to go, and if they show signs of distress (heavy panting, excessive salivation, frantic escape attempts, or barking, a crate is not the option for them. Alternatively, you can also try confining them to a small room behind a baby gate.

crate training

Medication

Always consult with your veterinarian before giving your pet any type of medication for a behavioural problem. The use of medications can be very helpful, especially for severe cases of separation anxiety. The benefit of implementing medication will help your dog to tolerate some level of isolation, as well as help to make the treatment process as quick as possible. If you’re after a simple alternative for helping your dog’s anxiety, try Canine Tranquil Formula Tabs or an Adaptil Diffuser Kit, and if you’ve been to your vet and your pet has been prescribed with a prescription medication, visit PetScripts.com.au for discount pet prescriptions delivered straight to your door.

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