Helping Your Dog With Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the most common problems for dog owners.  Dogs who become anxious, upset, and even destructive when left alone may be suffering from separation anxiety.  There are many roots and causes, and as a result, guiding your dog to learn to be alone can be a difficult process for many dog owners.  A great amount of literature exists on this topic, and we’ve complied a summary from Angi and the ASPCA  great in-depth articles to help guide dog owners through managing and preventing separation anxiety.

What are the signs of separation anxiety?

  • Urinating and defecating
  • Barking and howling
  • Whimpering and whining
  • Chewing
  • Digging
  • Destruction
  • Escaping
  • Pacing
  • Over-salivating, foaming at the mouth

There is a large spectrum of separation anxiety from mild to severe. When treating a dog with separation anxiety, the goal is to resolve the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone. While each dog and each situation varies, here are some general tips to help all dogs who are anxious when you leave.

Exercise. Try aerobic activity for 30 minutes or more before you leave.  This will give your dog less energy to expend, and less energy to worry with!

Discourage behavior.  Sometimes pet owners reinforce behaviors that increase separation anxiety without realizing it. For example, if you return home and your dog gets excessively excited and jumps on you, if you return the excitement, you are reinforcing their undesirable behavior.  After your dog has calmed down, give them a gentle and peaceful greeting.

Don’t make a big deal out of leaving. Do not say goodbye to your dog. The bigger deal you make about leaving, the harder it will be on the dog. By making a big deal out of leaving, you convey to your pet that your time apart is a big deal.

Counterconditioning. Most destructive behavior occurs within the first 30 minutes of you leaving home.  For dogs with separation anxiety, counterconditioning focuses on developing an association between being alone and good things, like delicious food or toys. To develop this kind of association, every time you leave the house, you can offer your dog a puzzle toy stuffed with food that will take him at least 20 to 30 minutes to finish.  Keep in mind, though, that this approach will only work for mild cases of separation anxiety because highly anxious dogs usually won’t eat when their guardians aren’t home.

Eliminate Departure Cues.  If your dog gets anxious when you pick up your keys or put on your shoes, help them disassociate these signs with your departure.  A few times a day, pick up your keys or shoes and watch television instead.

Leave on the television or radio.  Background noise soothes the pet, and has been known to decrease anxiety. Don’t forget to leave it on a channel with a consistent volume, like a shopping channel, rather than one with loud commercials.

Take small steps. Start by leaving your dog for very short periods of times and build up from there. For example, ask a neighbor or friend to hold onto your dog for one minute, then go into your house. After a minute, go back outside where your dog can see you. Then, go inside for two minutes. Increase the time in small increments until your dog remains comfortable with you leaving for longer periods of time.

Be consistent. Once you decide on a method, stick with it. Alleviating anxiety requires consistency and it may take time to see a change in behavior. Switching methods because you’re not seeing results right away can confuse the dog.

Alternatives.  There are other alternatives to leaving your dog home alone. Try leaving your dog with family or friends, or even better, bring them to doggie daycare to socialize and play with other dogs to learn that separating  from you for a couple of hours can be a fun experience!
Source: Angi & ASPCA