Dog Separation Anxiety or Separation Distress, is when a dog becomes very distressed when one person or dog leaves their sight. Cases where a dog is distressed when left alone are often referred to as separation anxiety.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
Habits: It’s important that new puppies and dogs learn how to be calm while left alone. If someone has always been around the whole time the new dog or puppy is settling in and then suddenly they are left alone for the first time, they may panic. While taking time off work for a new puppy can be useful, use this time to also teach the puppy gradually longer periods of confinement and alone time.
Over excited greetings and departures: If you fuss over your dog as you leave the house and create a big excited event on your return, this creates anxiety and can lead to separation related behaviours.
Bad experience when left alone: If your dog is only left in the back yard when you are out and is very lonely, this may create anxiety about the yard. If the dog has a bad experience in the yard while alone this can cause an anxious response to being left alone in the yard. For example, while you aren’t home a loud machine makes a noise at your next door neighbour’s house where renovations are happening.
Signs your dog has separation anxiety
- Excessive vocalisation such as howling, whining and barking when left alone
- Destructive habits when left alone, often directed at perceived barriers such as the back door
- Excessive salivation when left alone
- Panting and shaking when left alone
- Escaping or escape effort when left alone
- Self injury or mutilation when left alone
- Clingy behaviour
- Pre-departure restlessness
- Loss of appetite
Not all dogs that show some of these signs necessarily have separation anxiety, in fact this issue is commonly over-diagnosed. For a correct diagnosis, a dog will usually show a cluster of the signs above together although may not show every single one of the signs listed.
Related Article: Dog Fears in Riding Cars
Prevention and Treatment of Separation Anxiety
Prevention is always easier than cure when it comes to Separation Anxiety (SA), as with so many things. This article is a follow up to our last article on the causes and signs of SA and will cover tips on prevention and treatment.
- Teach young puppies from an early age to be happy to be left alone by leaving them alone in small sessions and build up the time gradually. Give your puppy alone time while you are home and not only while you go out. This is very important.
- Avoid over excited departures and arrivals. These can cause anxiety as the departure signals that you are leaving and it is over emotional. It’s common to see owners make a huge deal about arriving home, hyping up their dogs who then get very over excited. This causes your arrival home to be the highlight of your dog’s day and while they are waiting around for this to happen, anxiety can build. Although it isn’t the easiest thing to do, ignoring your dog for 5 to 10 minutes before you leave the house and after you get back home is a very effective method at avoiding anxiety associated with departures and arrivals.
- As above, reduce over enthusiastic greeting behaviours by ignoring the dog until it is calm. This is often difficult for owners and requires consistency and patience .
- Reduce the intensity of the owner – dog relationship by reducing the amount patting / stroking / cuddling, etc. This can be easier said than done.
- Relaxation exercises
- Obedience training to improve communication and to give owners skills that can be used in behaviour modification
- Environmental enrichment – leaving things for the dog to do at home such as chew toys and interactive or food dispensing toys
- Give the dog a toy or bone on departure. Especially toys which involve chewing and physical interaction.
- Leave TV or radio on
- Leave the dog with an item that contains your scent
- Leave the dog in a place that it feels safe and relaxed such as a room or crate
- Teach the dog to ignore the pre-departure cues such as shutting up the house, putting on work shoes, grabbing keys etc.
- Anti – anxiety medication prescribed by a Vet. These drugs are reported to make behaviour modification occur 2 – 3 times faster when used at the same time as a behavioural training program
- Natural therapies such as – Homeopathy, Bach Flower Essences
- Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP). This is a plug in diffuser that mimics the pheromones that the female dog gives out shortly after giving birth
Quick fixes including leaving the dog with a friend or dog sitter so that someone is always around, or taking the dog to work with you. But of course, not everyone has this option.
Some dogs are okay when left with another dog but this doesn’t work for every dog and you shouldn’t get a second dog only to fix a problem with the first dog. Also, some dogs will learn the unwanted behaviour in the first dog that you are trying to treat and then you will have 2 dogs with the problem.