Separation Anxiety in Dogs and How to Handle It

Dogs, like us, are naturally a very social species, so spending some time away from their owners can drastically affect their mental state.
Most dogs develop separation anxiety when they’re still puppies, but older dogs can get it if something traumatic happens while they are alone, like loud fireworks or some sort of an accident. Abandonment has also been linked to separation anxiety.
There are several steps to help your dog with separation anxiety, but the process could take from a couple of weeks to months, and being patient is essential for it to work. Here’s everything you need to know about the matter.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety has been a recognized mental condition in humans for a long time, but only recently did we realize that it affects various animals, including dogs.
Some dogs can show violent signs of separation anxiety, while others are relatively calmer. It depends on the cause and severity of the condition.
If your dog starts showing signs of distress, like panting, drooling, barking, and even trying to block you from the door as you’re leaving the house, these are good indications of your dog having separation anxiety.

Common Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

Most dogs will exhibit a couple of these symptoms when they’re alone. It’s important that you don’t punish your dog if you see these symptoms because they don’t understand that what they did is wrong and won’t associate your punishment with their behavior.

Excessive Barking

As soon as you leave, your dog will start barking and howling to persuade you to come back. If the dog doesn’t normally do this, it may be because of anxiety.

Pacing

Because of your dog's anxiety and stress, their heart rate and breathing rate increase, and they start pacing around repeatedly while excessively trembling, panting, and drooling.

Destructive Behavior

When they’re alone and distressed, some dogs will start chewing at objects like door frames, carpets, window sills, and things that still carry your smell. Dogs often do this to gain a sense of security.

Defecating and Urinating

Due to the anxiety, your dog might urinate and poo in the house. However, it’s important to realize when it could be a signal of anxiety and when it could be normal.
For example, if your dog urinates while you are home with them, it might not be a separation anxiety issue, but rather the dog needs to be potty-trained.

Escape Attempts

Dogs with violent cases of separation anxiety often attempt to escape from home by headbutting doors and windows or chewing and scratching at the door. This can lead to severe injuries like damaged and cut paws, broken teeth, and head trauma.

How to Help Your Dog With Separation Anxiety

Be ready; this is a long process that can take weeks or months to thoroughly teach your dog to be comfortable alone. Here are some good places to start.

Confidence Training

The purpose of this training is to build up your dog’s confidence over time. Five minutes a day of basic commands and tricks training like sit, stay, shake, spin, or roll-over are a good start.
Always reward your dog with their favorite treat after completing their training. Positive reinforcement in training will significantly help increase your dog’s confidence.

Independence Training

Give your dog a ‘stay’ command to make him stay in a different room and not follow you around the house.
Training your dog to stay still is a gradual process, and you start by pushing them down for a couple of seconds, then take a few steps back and see if they stay. Increase the time and distance away from your dog in small increments until you’re able to fully exit the room without triggering him. Don’t forget to treat him for a job well done!
Your dog follows you around the house because when you leave the room, their anxiety kicks in. This bond of constant contact needs to be broken.
This is hard for most people as your dog is likely to whimper or cry if you attempt to leave them, but your dog will never be okay alone in the house when they can’t even be alone in another room, so this is an important step in reducing the anxiety they feel when alone.

Teaching Your Dog to Be Alone

Put your dog in a room, close the door, and leave the room. In the beginning, stay out of the room for 10-30 seconds and gradually increase that time up to 15 minutes.
If your dog has a favorite toy or something he likes to chew on, leave it with them for the duration of their alone time because it will reduce their anxiety during alone time.
After they get comfortable being alone in a closed room, you can start leaving the house for short periods of time and incrementally increase it as you did with the room.

Quick Exits

Don’t make a big scene every time and spend too long saying goodbye as you’re leaving the house. Because then, the dog will associate this behavior with being left alone. Minimize contact for 10 to 20 minutes before you leave, and resist reassuring the dog if they show signs of anxiety as you’re leaving.

FAQs About Separation Anxiety

Does It Help to Have Other Dogs?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always make a difference. The dog suffering from separation anxiety is too obsessed with his owner that even the presence of other pets is not enough to calm them.

How Does a Vet Treat Separation Anxiety?

There’s a variety of medications that can be prescribed for anxiety, but they can take weeks or even months to get into your dog’s system, and they often come with side effects like vomiting, difficulty walking, and an increased heart rate.

Are There Alternatives to Drug Therapy?

Synthetic pheromones have a calming effect and are used to decrease anxiety. Consult your vet to decide the best course of action.

Conclusion

Be careful not to leave your dog for long periods while doing this program because it can mess up the progress you have made. Leave them with a dog sitter or a doggy daycare during your workday and work on the program at night.
If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to do that, you can always get a dog barrier to separate him from the furniture and doors.