Separation anxiety in dogs is something that can make our dogs unhappiness, and cause us distress as well. You can treat separation anxiety, but one step that is better is to prevent it. But how do you prevent dog separation anxiety? Taking steps to stop a problem before it occurs can ensure your dog is staying happy, healthy, and you remain worry-free. Furthermore, the changes for prevention do not have to be major and can even occur before you bring your dog home!
Today we will be exploring proper prevention for separation anxiety in dogs and what you can do to ensure you have a confident pup ready for anything.
What is Dog Separation Anxiety
Dog separation anxiety is a form of anxiety that originates from being left alone or being isolated from a certain individual. It can occur in dogs of any age, although it is more common in puppies and elderly dogs. Furthermore, certain dog breeds may also be more prone to separation anxiety. This can be due to deliberate human adoration traits founded through selective breeding. However, any dog can suffer from separation anxiety, and it is important to note that every dog can show different symptoms and different severity of each.
The symptoms may begin once you begin to get ready to leave or from the moment they are left alone. The signs may increase in severity over time they are left alone. The symptoms will then begin to ease once they are reunited with someone. For some dogs, symptoms immediately cease upon being reunited. For others, they need time to calm down.
What are the Signs of Dog Separation Anxiety
There are multiple signs of separation anxiety to be aware of. If these symptoms begin to show themselves, even slightly, being able to spot them quickly can allow you to put further prevention measures in place. Let’s take a look.
Chewing, Digging, and Destruction
These actions are all results of nervous energy. When their anxiety arises and they get that rush of adrenaline, many dogs need to expel it somewhere. Depending on what their surroundings are or what they enjoy to do, dogs may chew, dig, or generally become destructive. Avoid punishing your dog and instead praise them for using this behavior in acceptable areas. For example, buy toys for your dog to chew and encourage them to redirect this behavior when you can with positive reinforcement. Patience and repetition will help to create a habit.
Some dogs are found to walk in circles, pace in lines, or even run periodically during times when they are left alone. Some argue that they do so to try to search for their owner or someone. However, many behaviorists conclude that this is just another way for your dog to expel nervous energy. They focus on walking and upon reaching one side of the room they turn to repeat the notion. It also distracts them from focusing on your absence. Often it is a subconscious demonstration of anxiety.
Dogs will often attempt to exit the room or crate that they are in to reunite themselves with you. This means they may attempt to dig, chew, or even run at whatever is confining them. Often this is a door, however, they may also gnaw or scratch at locks on crates or gates blocking entrances. The anxiety may just result in them trying to escape what confines them, but more often than not they are aiming to be with you again. When you are in separate rooms with doors open, your dog is often content. This is because they can see you at any time they wish. However, once you deny that option, they will try to give themselves a route to you.
Vocalizations are a common sign of dog separation anxiety. This behavior is used in two ways, communication, and frustrated/anxious energy outlets. As barking, whining and howling are forms of dog communication, it may be that your dog is trying to communicate to you. They may be trying to tell you that they are in a room separate from you, or to tell you to come back. Other reasons can be an emotive expression that continues until those feelings cease. Which is usually when an owner returns.
How do You Prevent This
We have six preventative dog separation anxiety methods to explain and recommend below. Sometimes you may need to use more than one method to effectively prevent dog separation anxiety.
Gradual training using positive reinforcement can help your dog feel okay being left alone. Start off by teaching them the command stay. Increase the distances and time they are left alone. For example, give them thirty seconds alone and only praise them for good behavior, always avoid punishment though. Do not do too much training each day, a few sessions a day is fine. Don’t rush the process, only proceed to a longer time frame and distance if your dog is handling the current well. proceed to the previous step if your dog begins to struggle.
Crate training can offer your dog a safe space for them to feel comfortable whilst you are away from them. Beginning this training whilst you are with them allows them to feel safe, and understand that you will return. Begin by allowing them to sniff and enter the crate freely and praising them for doing so. Increase this to briefly closing the crate door, then small sessions of them being locked inside whilst you are still there. This then can build to small periods when you exit the room. Be sure to praise your dog at the end of each step to help them create a positive association.
Establish a Routine
Many owners do not realize the importance of creating a routine for a dog. It can minimize stress, anxiety, and many negative behaviors. They can become used to the time and amount of time you are at work. This allows them to gain a sense of comfort as they can roughly predict when you’ll be coming home. A lot of the anxiety your dog is feeling is from the worry of abandonment and that you will not return. Hence why a good routine can be so beneficial. On occasions where you need to leave your dog until their anxiety is reduced, you can consider a regular sitter. They will begin to learn that this person will be with them when you are not and begin to build trust with them.
If you show excitement or make a big deal out of greetings or goodbyes then your dog will get adrenaline rushes during this time. Excitement and anxiety are closely linked and they will associate these occasions with times where they are not supposed to be calm. That regular adrenaline rush can lead to the development of anxiety as they become anxious just before you leave each time. Ensuring there is a calm atmosphere throughout the process can help to keep your dog calm. Act like everything is normal and don’t say goodbye, just act how you would normally when leaving a room.
Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning
Offering your dog something fun, engaging, or tasty before you leave offers two benefits. Firstly, something they enjoy during a time of stress can begin to create a positive association. Your dog will learn that when they are being left alone they get something exciting. It also acts as a distraction to prevent them from focusing on your absence. Snuffle mats, Kong, or mentally stimulating toys are just some of the solutions to help keep your dog happy and engaged. However, it is best to find what drives your dog, such as food or play, and target that.
Medication and Natural Supplements
Often vets will recommend herbal remedies or over-the-counter medications, depending on the severity of your dog’s separation anxiety. Sometimes dogs may have a generalized anxiety disorder,l in which case medication may be beneficial in helping your dog’s mental state. It is a good idea to consult your vet to see what they advise as they may want you to progress through other behavioral and medical help first before moving on to something medical. However, they may immediately advise you to use natural supplements and see what differences arise.
Prevent Dog Separation Anxiety – FAQs
If you have some more questions on preventing dog separation anxiety then take a look at our FAQ section with some of the most searched questions on the topic.
Separation anxiety can be treated but it is not a process that can be done quickly. You will require patience and persistence. It may take weeks or months before a real change occurs. Furthermore, finding the right solution or a combination of help can take time. Have faith in the process and contact professionals if you have concerns.
There is no one type of medication your vet may prescribe for your dog’s anxiety. It will depend on the severity, your dog’s current health, and even accompanying symptoms. From Fluoxetine to Sertraline there is a range for your vet to consider for your dog.
We advise considering distractions and gradual training. Putting the TV or radio on when you leave can often be comforting to a dog. Dog’s have even been found to have favorite music genres, so take time to try to find your pup’s favorite! Stimulating toys, as well as snuffle mats, are also great ways to keep your dog’s attention away from crying. Another option is gradually training your dog to be okay with you leaving the room. Do so using positive reinforcement as well as only progressing to a new step once the one you are doing does not distress your dog at all.
Some dog breeds that are prone to separation anxiety include:
– Jack Russell Terriers
– Siberian Huskies
– German Shepherds
– Labrador Retriever
There are many other breeds that can also suffer from separation anxiety. However, any dog could be vulnerable so do not eliminate this as a cause for your dog’s behavior because of their breed.
Two dogs should only be left alone in each other’s company if they are entirely comfortable with one another. Otherwise, whilst you are not with them, things could become aggressive. If one oversteps the other’s boundaries them a reaction is inevitable.
In conclusion, dog separation anxiety is a big concern among owners. If you want to prevent dog separation anxiety then take time to understand your dog and be patient.