Is my dog suffering from separation anxiety?

Separation Anxiety can be best described as a group of behaviours that indicate a dog is in distress when left alone.

Any breed or type of dog can suffer from separation anxiety, but neutered males, Gundogs and dogs that have spent time in rehoming centres are all more likely to struggle when left alone.

What behaviours are linked to separation anxiety?

Typical behaviours include:

  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Barking
  • Destruction (from mild chewing to severe damage to property)
  • Howling
  • Salivating
  • Toileting (loss of bowel control) – this is often more than just needing to “go”.

Some dogs exhibit these behaviours because they are bored, or would just rather be with their owners, but when displaying this behaviour, some dogs are feeling genuine panic and fear because they are on their own. It can be difficult to know which type of dog you have, but a good way to see what is going on while you are out, is to set up a video camera and record what your dog gets up to.

If your dog is bored, you are likely to see them mooching about, chewing possessions you have left out, or they may even raid the bin. These are all symptoms of them looking for ways to entertain themselves. Dogs with true separation anxiety tend to panic. They will focus on the doors or windows, pulling down curtains or ripping up the carpet in an attempt to escape. They will bark and howl, often without stopping. If you have one of these dogs, please contact us for advice.

Ways to reduce dog separation anxiety

There are steps you can take to reduce the chances of your dog developing anxiety at being left. If your dog is one of those who is just bored, or would rather be with you, these tips should help them too.

Exercise and training

Exercise your dog before you leave them. Make sure you do this at least 30 minutes before you go, so they has a chance to calm down after their exercise. Avoid playing over-exciting games such as fetch, as this will only hype them up more and your dog will find it harder to settle. It’s much better to have a calm sniffing and exploring walk.

Do a short, mentally challenging training session. For dogs that struggle to be apart from you, this should include some stays with distance and self-control exercises like leave and wait.

Treats and activity boxes

Provide your dog with a tasty stuffed Kong or similar – you can give this to them just before you leave. Please note, if your dog does not eat while you are away, this is a sign that they are not coping.

If you have a puppy, gently and gradually introduce them to the idea of being alone. As you go about your day, sprinkle a small amount of treats on the floor and shut the door behind you. Be sure to return before the puppy has finished finding all the treats. This is a great “soft” way to introduce short absences.

You can also use feeding toys and enrichment to reward your puppy for being in another room. Similar to children, puppies develop independence by having a secure attachment to their owners, so please don’t follow advice to allow your puppy to “cry it out”, as this sets the puppy up for being anxious when alone as an adult.

Avoid crating an anxious dog

We do not recommend the use of crates for dogs that suffer from separation related behaviour problems. Crating an already stressed dog will not help calm them, and actually they could cause themselves an injury as they try to escape. Crates do not teach your dog to cope being alone, and add an additional stressor of being confined to an already upsetting situation.

If you dog is very stressed by your absence, it is unlikely that the above will make a difference. These dogs need a personalised training plan and may need some medication from the vet to help them cope with the panic they feel when alone.

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