Have you noticed your dog is acting worried as you get ready to step out the door? Perhaps they have begun to destroy stuff around the house, going berserk as they see you in the driveway, or frantically following you when you finally get in the door?
You may be dealing with a poor pooch suffering from separation anxiety. Dogs with this anxiety exhibit a range of distressed behavioural problems when left alone, such as:
- Destructive behaviour, such as chewing furniture or other house hold objects.
- Excessive barking, howling or whining.
- Scratching and digging at doors or windows in a desperate attempt to reunite with you.
- Out of character urination and defecation, despite being house trained for years.
Exploring the Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Due to the wide range of breeds and temperaments of dogs, it is not completely understood why some dogs suffer separation anxiety, and others do not. It's important to remember that whilst many of the behaviours exhibited by your best friend may seem to be designed to punish you that is not the case! It is simply how dogs react to a panic response.
Some of the key reasons a dog can have this panic response triggered are:
- A drastic change in an established routine, such as leaving at a different time, or a change in the family structure.
- A response to a previous trauma, such as time spent in a shelter, or previous instances of abandonment.
- Being left alone for the first time since adoption or being left alone after a period of constant human contact throughout the day.
How You Can Treat Minor and Major Separation Anxiety
At the core of treating separation anxiety is helping your dog to become more calm and relaxed. This will help to dull the powerful panic response that rises up when you trigger them.
Separation anxiety comes in both minor and major instances, so it’s important we explore what you can do to cope with both.
Minor Separation Anxiety Training
- Begin to establish a simple command or action that you use to signal to your dog that you will be back. This can be a pat behind the ears, a kiss on the head, or another action. It may take some time for your dog to respond to the routine, but eventually, they will link this action to your eventual return.
- You can make sure to leave recently worn clothes for your dog, usually, around an area, they typically relax. The smell of you will be calming to them and help to dull the panic response.
- As hard as it may sound, make an effort not to respond to your dog’s distress. Don’t make a big deal out of arrivals and departures and ignore your dog for the first few minutes when you’re back in the house. This will help to reinforce the idea that there is nothing to worry about, as dogs are very sensitive to your own emotional state.
Major Separation Anxiety Training
If the above methods do not calm your dog, it may be time to start more extensive measures. It’s important to remember that you should continue to employ all of the minor methods, as well as these.
- Create a “safe zone” within the house to loosely confine your dog and limit the destruction they can cause around the house.
- Buy more toys for your dog, giving them plenty of distractions to enjoy whilst you are gone.
- Place dirty laundry within your safe zone to create an overpowering familiar scent, creating a calming cue for your dog over time.
If these are not beginning to show results, it may be time to employ an over the counter calming product to help your best friend work through their separation anxiety. A popular and proven product to help dogs with separation anxiety is CalmDOG by Petvitals, a calming complex supplement that helps to relieve symptoms of anxiety, hyperactivity, nervousness, and stress.
What Not to Do
It can be frustrating to deal with a panicked pooch, but there are some important things that you should avoid when trying to help your dog deal with their separation anxiety. These include:
- Obedience Training: Whilst training your dog to be more obedient is good; it's important to remember that separation anxiety is not a result of disobedience. It’s a panic response that is causing them to stress out unnecessarily.
- Punishment: By linking punishment to their panic response, you can do more harm than good. Causing the dog to stress more, as they are worried, they are doing something that upsets you.
- Excess Noise: For many dogs, leaving the TV running or the radio on will cause them to stress more. Unless your dog is often more calm with either of these on.
- Getting Another Dog: Adding another dog into the mix may seem like you are providing them with a friend. But remember that their anxiety is due to being separated from you, not from being lonely.