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How to deal with separation anxiety in dogs

Dogs... They're man's best friend. The Ant to our Dec. The pineapple on our pizza (just don't tell our co-founder Ale). In an ideal world, we'd have them by our side day-in, day-out. But whilst we all love our dogs, the reality is we can’t be with them 100% of the time.

Leaving your dog at home is hard enough (don't even get us started on the sulking we're subjected to when we get home), but for some owners this can verge on impossible when your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. We share our top tips on identifying the signs of separation anxiety and how to deal with it.

 

The symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs

It can be tricky to identify all of the symptoms of separation anxiety as these will mostly be displayed whilst you're not at home - and you'll often only find the evidence when you get back. Home cameras are useful tools when it comes to spotting your dog’s biggest triggers. If this isn’t possible, you may see some of these signs just before you leave or when you return...

  • Destruction of particular areas of the house
  • Messing in the house
  • Chewing in the house
  • Neighbours reporting excessive barking and whining
  • Pacing
  • Excessive panting
  • Tail between legs
  • Lip licking
  • Ears pinned back
  • Paw raises
  • Yawning

What causes dogs to have separation anxiety?

What causes separation anxiety will vary from dog to dog. Just like us, they are individuals with their own personalities and needs. The better you know your dog, what they have been through in the past (if they are a rescue), and what upsets them most, the easier it will be for you to identify what may be causing their anxiety. The most common reasons are:

  • Boredom – If your dog isn’t sufficiently stimulated they will begin to look for ways to either entertain themselves (chewing, tugging at furniture, playing with items they shouldn’t be) or they will begin to display distressed behaviours as they just simply cannot deal with being left alone with excess energy.
  • Fear – You are your dog’s world, their comfort and by leaving them on their own, they can become scared not just because you are not there but also because they do not know if you are going to return. On top of this, noises from outside can spook some dogs, especially rescue dogs.
  • Frustration – This can be caused by things such as boredom, because they can see triggers such as wildlife or cats outside that they want to chase or because they no longer have your attention.

Other factors can include the fact that they have just never been left before (hello lockdown!), poor socialisation, a big change has occurred in the home or a bereavement and so on.

Can you fix separation anxiety in dogs?

It can be fixed, yes but it won’t be overnight, it will take your dedication as their owner and caregiver. The most effective methods for helping your dog are by you providing a routine, training them, gaining expert advice as and when appropriate and using all that you learn about your dog and applying solutions for them every single time you need to leave them. Which we will look at now…

Top tips for dealing with separation anxiety

The starting Points

  • Routine – A good routine will involve walks at set times, feeding at set times and regular play. If you incorporate all of this into your dog’s week, it will set up a good foundation. Your dog needs to know what is coming up next but they also need to be sufficiently stimulated, both are key factors in helping your dog to be happy.
  • Safe place – The next step is to ensure that your dog has a safe place where they can retreat if they need to. Create a cosy area for their bed or crate and make sure this is comfortable and quiet. If your dog is fearful or highly anxious, you may want to put a blanket over the crate for cover.
  • Stimulation – Your dog will require stimulation throughout the day whether you are in or not. By providing them with food puzzle games, they will have to use their brains to get at the food, giving them the entertainment and distraction they need to help them to go on and have calm moments once they are done.

Training

This will be a slow process at first. Your starting point is to not leave the house but to just simply leave the room.

**Note- Your dog should have had all of the above provided for them before you begin this exercise**

  • Once your dog seems ready, leave the room without any fuss or excitement.
  • Leave them for just a few minutes to begin with and re-enter the room. Again, making minimal fuss over the whole situation.
  • You can then build on this by leaving longer periods between your return. Only praise good behaviour and do not allow your voice to get high or loud.
  • Once your dog starts to understand that you do come back, you can use this method to leave the house. It is important not to make any fuss over getting your shoes on, picking up keys or saying goodbye, they need the situation to remain calm and normal.
  • If your dog reacts well to treats being given then you can also incorporate this into your steps. If all goes well you could also add in some fun new tricks such as sit, roll over, paw and lay down which will give them a new focus.
  • Work on downtime when you are at home. Life can’t always be fun, play and excitement for your dog and they need to learn that certain times of the day need to involve sleep and rest. Keep your home atmosphere as calm as possible with music, little noise and your gentle touch. Remember to ignore any unwanted behaviours and reward all desired ones. By teaching your dog to self-soothe they should hopefully be able to display this when you are not at home.

Which dog breeds have the worst separation anxiety?

Of course, this will vary depending on your dog’s temperament but the dog breeds that do tend to show separation anxiety tendencies are:

  • Labradors

  • German Shepherds

  • Jack Russells

  • Border Collies

  • Pointers

  • Vizlas

  • And we can’t overlook puppies, rescues and dogs who joined your home during the lockdown period.

You may notice that the one thing all the above breeds have in common is that they need a lot of stimulation and exercise so if you do have one or are looking to get one, you really need to factor in how you can cater to their needs.

What services are available to help with separation anxiety?

Going through a situation like this alone can be tricky which is why seeking professional help can be that lifesaver you need. We would highly recommend that you:

  • Speak to your vet
  • Find a local behaviourist
  • Look into using a dog walker or pet sitter (if you do not see results and your dog is always distressed)
  • Take them to training/puppy/socialisation classes

Dog behaviour is complex so please don’t ever feel as though you are failing, with problems like separation anxiety it can take time to find the right solutions for your dog. Take your time, stay calm for both yourself and your pooch and seek appropriate expert advice. Good luck!

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