Separation anxiety in dogs is probably the last thing we’re thinking of when we wake up in the morning. Especially when we’re bleary-eyed, hair fashionably vertical on one side, and with breath that could floor a Rhino.
So, it’s actually a comfort to know that our loyal dogs are excited to see us. They hang on our every word, warm our feet, and frequently wash our faces in a fun but unhygienic manner.
Our dogs love us unconditionally, and it feels great to have a furry best friend that is devoted to us. But, what happens when that love and devotion become too much?
Dogs are very emotionally complex creatures. Under all that hair and waggy tails, they experience fear just like us, and that fear can be quite irrational.
Anxiety in dogs is a difficult condition to live with, not only for our dogs but for all of us.
Does your dog throw an almighty fit when you’re about to leave and then destroy the contents of your house? Does your dog scratch your doors and bark excessively while you are out, then go berserk when you return home? There’s a very good chance your dog has separation anxiety.
Dog separation anxiety can develop for multiple reasons, and although difficult, it is possible to help them get it under control. So here are the essential things to know about separation anxiety in dogs.
Make sure to read through the full article to have a better understanding of this condition.
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Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, will display signs of being under extreme stress from the time you leave them alone, until the time you come back.
Patricia McConnell, a certified animal behaviorist, and separation anxiety expert claim that the anxiety felt by dogs could equal a full-blown panic attack.
Dog owners often complain about problematic behaviors, such as:
- Destroying objects and the house
- Urination & defecating in the house
- Excessive barking
But what many people don’t realize, is these are some of the distress signals a dog will display when separated from their owner.
The anxiety intensifies within minutes of you leaving your dog alone. Chronic stress makes a dog feel physically sick, it also alters their hormone levels and decreases their natural immunity.
Studies have shown that a whopping 15% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety. Undeniably, this is not a small population and goes to show how common dealing with separation anxiety in dogs is.
Separation anxiety is often misdiagnosed and frequently confused with other mental problems. Unfortunately, this can be extremely detrimental to your dog.
If your dog is very dependent on you, there is a high risk of them developing separation anxiety. By reading this article, you’re taking an important first step in the right direction.
There are many things you can do to help your dog, and we’ll explore some of the dos and don’ts of managing an anxious dog. We’ll also reveal some amazing treatments and remedies that can alleviate the symptoms and calm your dog down.
Signs Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
We touched on this subject earlier, dogs exhibit stress behaviors in several ways. Individually, these signs can’t reliably confirm anxiety in dogs. However, if you see a cluster of them, then it’s like a giant loud flashing alarm sounding. You now have very good reason to be concerned about your dog’s mental health.
It’s common for most dogs to display a couple of the following signs occasionally, and some might happen rarely. But, if your dog exhibits some of these behaviors regularly, it’s reasonable to suspect separation anxiety is the cause.
- Pacing, whining, or whimpering when you’re planning to leave.
- Extreme barking or howling.
- Destructive behavior, such as digging, chewing, or scratching, especially around doors and windows.
- Urinating and defecating inside the house.
- Attempting to escape, risking severe injury.
- Following the owner too much.
- In extreme cases, self-mutilation
Unfortunately, dogs acting this way is often misunderstood, as many dog owners just see this as extremely bad behavior. This common mistake leads to dog owners getting the wrong help, and in turn, leads to frustration with the dog.
Many stressed owners, believing they have exhausted all avenues, will make that heartbreaking decision to rehome their dog. It’s understandable to feel that way when we think we’ve done everything possible with no improvement. The bad behavior is still tearing the family’s lives apart, and there doesn’t seem to be any solutions. However, what they don’t realize, is that their dog has separation anxiety.
Once we recognize the signs of separation anxiety in dogs, we’ve got something to work with. This is an extremely important starting point when we’re at our wit’s end.
It throws new light on the situation when we realize our dogs aren’t trying to attack us, wreck our homes or hurt us. Our dogs are instead panicking, and the fear is causing them to act irrationally.
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are scared and just want their owners to come home.
Why Do Dogs Get Separation Anxiety?
There’s no single reason why dogs develop separation anxiety any more than dogs that suffer with Noise Anxiety or Travel Anxiety. Different dog breeds can be more susceptible than others. Some dogs are fine for most of their lives and only become anxious in later life. Others can suffer sudden separation anxiety caused by trauma.
Here are some common causes of separation anxiety in dogs.
- No experience of being left alone
- A traumatic event
- Moving to a new home
- Changing work schedules
- Previously been abandoned
- Not being socialized as a pup
- A new family member
- Moving from a shelter to a new home
- Old age
- The loss of a family member
- A genetic disposition
- Owners that allow their dog to dictate when they eat, walk and play
If your dog is behaving strangely, ask yourself if they’ve experienced one of the situations listed above.
Important Things to rule out
- Ensure your dog is correctly house trained. Incorrect or incomplete house training can make your dog soil in the house. Harsh training can also make your dog afraid to go to the toilet outside while their owner is around
- Some medicines or medical conditions might cause your dog to urinate uncontrollably such as Cushing’s disease. Kidney/bladder disease, urinary tract, or even diabetes may affect normal urinary functions. Consult your vet to rule this out.
We’ve established why dogs get this condition and we’ve ruled out similar symptoms. Now, let’s reveal how to help a dog with separation anxiety.
Preventing Separation Anxiety in Dogs
The 16th-century Dutch philosopher, Desiderius Erasmus said, “prevention is better than cure”, and he wasn’t wrong. If your dog isn’t showing signs of separation anxiety, now is the best time to take steps to prevent this terrible condition from ever developing.
Here are a few things we can do right now to prevent the threat of separation anxiety in dogs:
Stop Your Dog Looking out of the Window
This is guarding behavior, and shouldn’t be encouraged. Try interrupting this habit by closing your blinds or curtains.
By obscuring your furry friend’s view of the outside world, it’ll give them less to worry about while you’re away. It’ll also lessen their instinct to bark at everything that moves outside your window.
Reduce your Dog’s Access to Space
No, we don’t mean ban your dog from Nasa’s astronaut program, phew! We mean the amount of space you allow your dog to roam in while home alone. The bigger the area your dog has access to, the stronger their urge to protect that space. This is again part of a dog’s natural guarding instinct. Minimize your dog’s burden by gradually reducing their access to the house while you’re away.
If your dog sleeps in your room, encourage them to sleep in another area of the house. Letting your dog sleep in your room, especially on your bed, will naturally make them feel that you are both on the same hierarchal level. This can cause no end of problems, and making your dog more difficult to train.
This is also a key reason why some dogs develop separation anxiety. Giving your furry friend a separate room to sleep in establishes a pecking order between the two of you. Sleeping separately also shows it’s safe to be disconnected from you, and that it’s normal behavior to be apart now and again.
Take Your Dog Out for a Walk Before You Leave
Before you go to work, start the day with a brisk walk with your dog. This kind of vigorous exercise stimulates not only the body but the mind. When you both get home, your furry friend may be tired, and relaxed enough to go to sleep while you go out.
The great thing about this strategy is that you can do it anytime you’re planning to leave the house. Dogs love going for a walk, so you’ll have no problem convincing them to go.
Why not try using a dog backpack, and add some weights. The extra load will make your dog’s walk feel more rigorous, and they’ll be tuckered out and settle down easier when you are ready to leave them alone.
Remember to only add extra weight appropriate to your dog’s size and age. The idea is to make them tired and relaxed, not give them a cardiac arrest.
Pair the walk with some calming treats, and it’ll be even more effective.
Give Your Dog Something Fun to Do!
There’s nothing more boring than being on your own with nothing to do, and it’s the same for dogs. A bored dog will always find something useful to occupy themselves, and it usually involves teeth and expensive stuff.
So, when you leave the house, stimulate their little furry brain with a puzzle. While a jigsaw or Rubik’s cube may seem like a genius idea, we recommend giving your dog something more suitable. A lick mat or frozen Kong stuffed with peanut butter or other treats.
This will do two things:
- It’ll distract your dog while you leave
- Your dog will be busy and occupied while you’re out.
Remember to take it off your furry friend when you get home. Your dog should see this as a high tariff treat, and something to be excited about when they see it.
Playing It Cool and Limit Attention
Be like the Fonz and act cool! Limit the attention you give your dog before you leave the house or when you return home. This will send a clear message to your dog that your absence is not a big deal.
Teach your furry friend how to be on their own by training them to “stay.”
The best way to do this is to start with short periods, like a couple of minutes. Then as your dog gets used to it, increase the time, soon you’ll be away for 10 mins, 20min, or even an hour. If your dog can stay on their own for this length of time, it won’t be long before they’ll be comfortable in their own company for 3 or 4 hours.
When you return home, don’t make a big deal, remember to play it cool. Don’t flap about squeaking at your dog in a high-pitched voice like a chipmunk on helium. This just gets them excited.
Keep your behavior neutral and calm. Avoid eye contact, excessive touching, or talking. Before long, your dog will be accustomed to you leaving the house and returning.
If you are having trouble not being affectionate to your furry friend before leaving the house, try being affectionate earlier. If you make a fuss of your dog long before you go out, they won’t associate it with your impending absence.
Be More Assertive
It’s natural to feel guilty before you have to go to work and leave your dog. But it’s time to push those feelings aside and be more assertive. Dogs are used to a hierarchy in a pack, and you’re the top dog. Project confident energy like an alpha pack leader and show your dog that everything is going to be okay.
Projecting a calm and assertive presence helps to settle their anxiety down.
Walk ahead of your dog; reward them with treats after they’ve accomplished something, and save your affection for when your dog displays better behavior.
Dogs are submissive to their alpha leaders; this quality makes them very trainable as they are eager to please. They also have the ability to match your energy levels, so if you’re calm and relaxed, your dog will be too.
Dog Separation Anxiety Training – Obedience Training
An essential tool in the prevention of separation anxiety in dogs is obedience training. By combining obedience training with the right amount of socialization, you can lay the foundation of a healthy and happy relationship with your dog.
Obedience classes can be a wonderful environment for your dog to experience mixing with other dogs. Through regular training, your furry friend will learn what your expectations are, and how good behavior will be rewarded.
Dog Separation Anxiety Training – Crate Training
An effective way to help dogs with separation anxiety is with crate training. A crate should be large enough for your furry friend to stand to their full height, while also being able to turn around quickly.
The crate should become your dog’s favorite place to be. It’s an essential tool for you and provides your dog with a haven, a quiet area to relax. Dogs should view their crate as a safe space, and associate it with things they love, such as chew toys, bones, and treat-releasing puzzles.
Train your dog for a short period while you are present and monitoring their progress. Gradually increase the time your dog spends alone inside the crate. We’ve done a detailed article all about crate training an anxious dog, and you can find it here.
We normally don’t recommend putting water on the floor inside the crate because it could quickly get messy. However, there are special water bowls and bottles specifically designed for dog crates that can keep the spillages to a minimum.
Try to make crate training something your dog works on every day, keeping the time they actually spend alone to a bare minimum to begin. The ultimate goal is to teach your dog to enjoy the crate, and be comfortable in their own company.
Avoiding Trigger Situations
If your dog suffers from anxiety, it’s wise to just avoid trigger-inducing situations. For example, if you know your dog is nervous around other dogs or groups of dogs, maybe you need to avoid busy public dog parks.
Once you know your dog’s trigger, you can even take preemptive steps, even when circumstances become unavoidable. Again, a dog that is nervous around other dogs can be controlled with the correct body harnesses and leash, reducing the chances of a bad experience for your furry friend.
While avoiding anxious situations is a great way to reduce some of your dog’s stress, it doesn’t mean that you should put your dog’s life on hold. Let’s look at some effective treatments to reduce your dog’s anxiety and help them live a normal life.
How to Treat Dog Separation anxiety
Firstly, it’s important to make sure that our dogs are correctly diagnosed with separation anxiety by a vet or dog behaviorist.
Dogs can have infections or other hormone problems that have similar symptoms to anxiety, and this can make diagnosing the condition confusing. This is why a professional opinion is needed, and why we should only then consider seeking Dog separation anxiety treatment.
Treating separation anxiety in dogs can range from mild to severe, and with this in mind, treatment can consist of counter conditioning and desensitization training, natural remedies, and medication.
We recommend giving training a go, or using natural remedies for separation anxiety in dogs, before opting for any prescribed medications, as these can have side effects.
Let’s take an in-depth look at some of the options…
Mild Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Counter conditioning might be an effective treatment if a dog has mild separation anxiety. This process conditions a dog’s anxious and aggressive behavior to be pleasant and relaxed.
It sounds simple, but how does it work?
Counter conditioning is based on Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiment.
This treatment presents an anxious dog with a situation or object they fear, alongside something they love. The association of positive feelings for the object they love together with the dog’s anxiety trigger gradually reduces their fear.
Over time, the dog will learn that the once-fearful object or situation, no longer makes them feel scared.
So, counter conditioning for separation anxiety will focus on associating the dog with being alone, surrounded by things they love. For example, we can give our dogs a treat-releasing puzzle or a stuffed toy every time we leave the house.
Another way of counter conditioning is to leave our dogs with clothes that smell like us. This process is proven to be useful for dogs experiencing mild separation anxiety.
Remember to play it cool when returning, it’s not like we need a marching band or a parade when we come home.
Highly anxious dogs, however, may need a treatment that is a little more intensive.
Severe Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Even the most tempting treat won’t distract a dog with severe separation anxiety. These dogs require more complex counterconditioning and desensitization.
Progress will be slow, but it’ll be worth it. We need to be very patient while our dogs get used to our absence.
Firstly, we need to find our pre-departure cues that trigger anxiety in our dogs. Be aware of any rituals you may have prior to your dog getting anxious.
Everyone has a routine, and our dogs are more aware of them than we are. For example, we may switch the tv off, close certain doors before putting our shoes on, then our coat, grab our keys, and so on.
By discovering our cues, we’ve found our trigger, and taken an important step in the right direction.
The goal is to desensitize our dogs to our departure cues. This means that we have to make our dogs feel like these cues don’t necessarily mean we’re leaving them.
Things You Can Try:
- Pick up your car keys, walk around the house with them, put them someplace else or do something random with them, and do it often. This helps to break the routine.
- Try giving treats to your dog every time you pick up your keys. Now, your dog will actually look forward to you picking up the keys.
- Then we can try a short period of absence that doesn’t result in anxiety, this could be a minute or even less. Then slowly increase the time of separation, this will take daily sessions over many weeks.
Over time, your dog will become less and less anxious as the absence period gradually increases.
It’s a good idea to have a professional oversee the processes, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. They can design a desensitization and counterconditioning plan and walk you through how to behave and react to your dog during the training.
Also, remember to ignore them when you re-enter the house, as it could undo everything you and your dog have achieved.
Natural remedies for separation anxiety in dogs
Sometimes dog training isn’t quite enough, and our dogs may need a little extra help managing their anxiety. Natural remedies can complement our dogs’ desensitization training, and fortunately, there are several natural remedies for separation anxiety in dogs that we can try:
CBD oil for dogs with separation anxiety is very beneficial. This amazing oil is derived from the cannabis plant, but without the “high” that is associated with cannabis.
It’s easy to use, mixing a few drops of CBD oil into your dog’s food can soothe their nerves in no time. CBD oil also relieves joint pain and can improve the overall health of your dog’s heart.
Introducing Relievet CBD oil – the pet-friendly solution for your anxious dog! Relievet CBD oil is made with only clean C02-extracted broad-spectrum CBD and organic Coconut MCT oil, bringing together two of the finest ingredients nature has to offer. Stop settling for less than the best and try Relievet CBD oil today for clean, natural relief for anxious dogs!
CBD oil is a popular, and effective product that can make managing separation anxiety in dogs much easier.
Vet Calming Supplements
Calming supplements are chewable treats, developed by vets to calm dogs down during stressful events. The supplements tend to contain vitamins and herbs with almost no side effects to worry about.
Zen Calming CBD chews – Packed with natural ingredients like chamomile, Ashwagandha, Tryptophan and CBD, this unique formulation helps promote stress relief and support neurological functions so that your dog can achieve a calm and relaxed state in any situation. Your furry friend will find them so yummy, they won't EVEN NOTICE they're taking an anxiety remedy!
Some dog owners prefer using over-the-counter supplements in their dog’s food.
St John’s Wort, chamomile, passionflower, and valerian root are well-known calming ingredients that are used to make this kind of supplement.
St. John’s wort has a vast array of health benefits for your dog. The main benefit we’re interested in is that it’s an excellent alternative to antidepressants.
Chamomile contains chemicals that relax a dog’s muscles and calm them down. We’ve done a detailed article about the benefits of Chamomile for dogs, and we highly recommend taking some time to read it.
Passionflower increases serotonin and dopamine levels, which improves your dog’s mood and temperament.
Valerian root is an herbal supplement that acts as a mild sedative.
Music and Audiobooks
Studies show that music and audiobooks have a calming effect on kenneled dogs. In fact, when they play music in rehoming centers, the rate of adoptions significantly goes up.
The research results of Dr. Susan Wagner’s Through a Dog’s Ear study (2004-2005) conducted with 150 dogs showed that classical piano arrangements induced peace in 85 percent of dogs in households. Additionally, music also helps to muffle sounds coming from outside the house which is another source of anxiety for dogs.
This isn’t a cure, but it’s certainly a cunning weapon you can deploy in your war with anxiety.
Dogs that listen to music spend more time lying around, rather than running about and being restless. Unbelievably, soft rock and reggae are known to have the best results in calming dogs. Time to dig out all your old Foreigner, Chicago, and Bob Marley albums!
For the more educated pooch, a good audiobook may work. A soothing voice-over will also significantly improve their mood while you are away.
Here at Anxious Canine, we recommend the iCalmDog speaker.
A fantastic device that’s inexpensive, but plays music for a host of targeted dog-related issues. These include separation anxiety, aggression, phobias plus many more…
ThunderShirts for dogs
A dog separation anxiety vest reinforces a sense of security and is designed for stress relief.
The ultimate in anti-anxiety clothing for dogs has to be the Thundershirt by ThunderWorks. These amazing wraps calm stressed dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, thunderstorms, and car travel, to name but a few.
The Thundershirt has an impressive 80% success rate. This means you need no drugs or supplements, your dog just naturally feels happier and calmer.
Created with patented technology, Thundershirt’s soft and comfortable fabric applies gentle pressure that has been scientifically proven to lower stress levels in dogs. It does not restrict movement or cause discomfort, but instead provides calming reassurance similar to being hugged. This hug-like pressure on the body is known as Deep Touch Pressure (DTP), and calms dogs who suffering from all types of anxieties such as separation anxiety, travel, noise, general phobias, panic attacks and more.
To learn more about it, we’ve done a detailed article about the Thundershirt that you can read here.
We also have a handy article that explains how to put one on, it’s really easy.
Aromatherapy and Massages
To say that a dog’s sense of smell is phenomenal, is frankly, underselling it. Scent plays a huge role in a dog’s day-to-day life. So much so, that scientists have come up with a few products that capitalize on your dog’s super-sensitive nose.
There’s a vast array of products on the market that replicate canine pheromones that remind our dogs of their mothers. This has a fantastic calming effect, as the pheromones give off a feeling of being nurtured and nursed.
Natural products such as Lavender, chamomile, and germanium are essential oils that also have similar soothing effects on our dogs.
We all like a massage, and so do our dogs. Massaging your dog before you leave the house is a great way to relax them, and hopefully send them to sleep.
Brushing our dogs also has a similar effect, and these activities promote bonding between you and your dog.
Medication for Dog Separation Anxiety
This suggestion is always last on our list at Anxious Canine because we prefer natural remedies. That said, sometimes there’s a few cases where counterconditioning, desensitization, natural remedies, Thundershirts, and so on, have very little effect. It’s rare, but it does sometimes happen. In these cases, when you’ve exhausted all other avenues, medication over the counter from your vet may be advised.
Vets often prescribe amitriptyline and alprazolam, which treat depression and anxiety, respectively, for separation anxiety.
There are mainly three options that are FDA approved, these are Reconcile, Clomipramine, and Pexion. You’ll find several options in the market, but people gravitate more towards these three.
These medications for dog separation anxiety are typically safe. Make sure to follow your vet’s advice, especially if you’re using them on pups and young dogs with anxiety.
You can also check out our article for Discover 15 ways to naturally calm your dog for more dog calming solutions.
Myths about Managing Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Finding dog anxiety solutions will take time, effort, and a lot of patience. There’s no magic cure that will “fix” your dog overnight.
There’s no simple fix for any kind of anxiety problem.
There are many myths about separation anxiety in dogs, and it’s essential to weed out the good information, from the bad. There are several proven and effective methods that can help and cure a dog’s separation anxiety over time.
But, there are many more that simply DO NOT WORK!
Let’s take a look at some totally bogus information that you may have stumbled upon already:
Get a Companion for Your Dog
Getting a companion is a very pervasive idea, it seems like an easy solution and a quick win.
However, a dog’s anxiety doesn’t stem from loneliness, they feel nervous because you, their owner have left. That nervous feeling won’t disappear because there’s another dog around the house.
Taking on another dog is a big commitment, so unless you’re confident that you want another pet, don’t risk it.
Countless people have found that this method has no guarantee of success.
Worse still, many end up managing two dogs with separation anxiety.
It’s Gone for Good once You’ve Managed It
Woo hoo! My dog’s separation anxiety has gone forever! This has got to be is one of the most common misconceptions, simply for this reason… If you don’t properly maintain your dog’s welfare, the anxiety will inevitably creep back.
Your dog can relapse if there’s a change in their routine. If your furry friend goes through another traumatic event or has to face an unexpected trigger situation.
There is good news however, you already know what to do, so any sudden relapse won’t blindside you.
If your dog does suddenly relapse, don’t panic, repeat what you did before. If you need help, seek professional assistance.
Bonding Closely with Your Dog Will Cause Separation Anxiety
Bonding with your furry best friend is one of the best things about having a dog. Studies have shown that bonding doesn’t cause separation anxiety.
Dogs develop separation anxiety for several reasons, and they are associated with fearful situations.
Having your dog sleep next to you or sharing a sofa does not correlate with separation anxiety. If your dog is suffering from it, doing so will not enable his anxiety nor will it cure it.
It is recommended that you establish boundaries so that your dog doesn’t become overly dependent on you.
All dogs face some sort of anxiety at certain points in their lives. Sometimes it’s mild and fleeting, and for a few unlucky dogs, it’s more permanent and can grow to become a problem.
It’s essential that we understand the causes of separation anxiety in dogs, so we can find the best treatment for them.
Having the right information to focus on, and taking positive action, is the best way to help our dogs.
If your dog displays signs of separation anxiety, and you’re confused about what to do, consult a vet. They will advise an appropriate treatment plan that suits your dog’s lifestyle.
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All information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian’s advice.
DisclaimerAll information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian's advice.
Transforming anxious pups with her wealth of hands-on practical experience, and qualified in the following disciplines: Holistic Healing, Canine Anxiety & Therapy, Zoopharmacognosy, and CBD Oil for Animals
Founder of Anxious Canine and proud member of the Complementary Medical Association.