Managing Separation Anxiety in Your Dog
Dogs may experience separation anxiety when they are away from their pet parent or primary caregiver. Up to 20% of dogs may experience separation anxiety during their lifetime, according to a Scientific Reports study. This can contribute to tendencies like barking, whining, a reluctance to sleep, and a refusal to participate in other activities.
Some dogs are more prone to separation anxiety than others. Many puppies and young dogs naturally experience some degree of it as they age. Dogs who are already dealing with other stressors—a new diet, a new home, new pet parents, or other factors—can also experience separation anxiety at heightened levels.
This may occur regardless of training or disposition and will often cause dogs to act contrary to their typical behaviors. No matter your dog’s amount of training or baseline personality, separation anxiety can become a reality that affects your pet’s attitude and activity.
Signs & Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, it may manifest in a variety of ways. The way it affects one dog might differ completely from the ways it affects another.
Look out for the following signs and symptoms of separation anxiety:
- Crying, barking, or whining that doesn’t stop after a few minutes, and oftentimes grows as the separation lengthens
- Desperate paw licking as a therapeutic response to heightened anxiety
- Attempts to escape your home, often using the same door through which a pet parent or caregiver left
- Destructive tendencies that can include nervous chewing and biting
- Accidents when left alone, particularly from dogs who are housetrained
- Shaking or trembling until a pet parent or caregiver returns home
One common underlying symptom is the heightened sense of panic that most dogs experience. If anyone notices your pet panting, whining, or pacing when you leave, they might be witnessing separation anxiety.
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Researchers don’t fully understand why some dogs develop separation anxiety while others don’t. If your furry friend is experiencing this, it might be for a variety of reasons.
Many dogs face separation anxiety simply because they have developed a strong relationship with their pet parent, caregiver, or even another dog, who leaves for any length of time. Your pooch could also develop separation anxiety as a result of other co-occurring issues. If your dog has experienced past trauma, or is in the middle of an unexpected lifestyle change, separation anxiety can result.
Is It Something Else?
In other cases, separation anxiety could have roots in behavioral issues. It’s best to rule out medical causes of separation anxiety before pursuing training or other remedial solutions. For example, make sure your pup’s accidents in the house aren’t the result of dog incontinence.
How to Help a Dog with Separation Anxiety
Some dogs will whine for hours on end. Other dogs will relieve themselves in the house, even if they have been well trained. Thankfully, you can use several methods to help your dog overcome their responses.
The severity of your dog’s symptoms should determine your response. Mild cases of separation anxiety will require only a moderate fix. If your dog suffers from a more severe case of separation anxiety, you’ll need to take more dedicated measures to improve their quality of life.
Many cases in dogs are mild. As a pet parent, you can deal with mild cases in a variety of different ways:
- Crate training, particularly nighttime crate training when separation anxiety might worsen
- Thorough daily exercise to promote the release of positive hormones and naturally tire your dog’s body
- Stimulus desensitization training to expose your dog to anxiety-inducing situations where you can help your pet control their reaction
- Counterconditioning that slowly changes your pet’s attitude about anxiety
- Practicing situations that help reinforce stimulus training, counterconditioning, and other instruction
- Offering chew toys and treats to help relieve stress once you get home; always supervise your dog while they’re chewing
If you’re looking to take a more preventive approach to your dog’s separation anxiety symptoms, consider using dog training pads. You can also use dog gates that limit your pup’s access to parts of the house that might evoke anxiety.
Exercise is one of the best ways to calm any dog. Even if you have to exercise your dog indoors, allowing your dog the chance to walk, run, jump, and play can yield positive results for their separation anxiety.
Some dogs experience more serious separation anxiety. When this is the case, it’s not something you’ll want to handle on your own. Work with a licensed specialist to determine the best path forward.
In some cases, dogs with severe separation anxiety can benefit from a professional dog trainer. Dog trainers will help you implement a variety of dynamic techniques that help your pet face and overcome their anxieties. In other cases, your dog might benefit from anti-anxiety medication. Consult a certified veterinarian for a professional opinion on your dog’s separation anxiety.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Preventing separation anxiety in your dog is often possible with the right approach. Make sure your dog lives a healthy, active lifestyle each day. They should receive sufficient food and water for a diet that delivers all the nutrients they want and need. Your pooch should also enjoy sustained periods of exercise each day and get the chance to explore, socialize, and stretch their legs.
Despite your best efforts, separation anxiety can’t always be prevented. Especially if your dog is already experiencing some form of separation anxiety, your goal should be to minimize symptoms and foster a sense of calm and ease.
Fortunately, separation anxiety isn’t enough to keep your dog from living a happy, full life. Whether it’s treatment or training, you can help your dog take steps away from anxiety and toward the fulfillment and love they need.