What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs
We all love how excited our dogs are to see us when we get home. They greet us with kisses and a wagging tail, but some owners may not realize what happens to their dog while they are away. This article is all about separation anxiety in dogs.
Separation anxiety is a type of anxiety that comes from being left alone or without the person or another animal they have closely bonded with. This can be very traumatic for dogs to deal with and leads to some pretty difficult side effects for owners to deal with.
You may have a dog breed that is more susceptible to having separation anxiety, such as a poodle, so educating yourself to help treat and prevent this condition is very important. So, let’s look into separation anxiety in dogs and learn how to deal with it and start to help our furry friends feel better!
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Separation anxiety is a form of extreme stress, and as we know, stress can cause havoc on bodily functions in humans and dogs. However, there are also symptoms of separation anxiety that can be considered more psychological. These symptoms could be trying to get attention and tell you that they are feeling stressed or simply their way of coping with their anxiety.
Howling & Barking
When you leave your dog at home alone, your dog will begin the panic process and may start to howl or bark excessively. To determine if your dog’s barking or howling is due to separation anxiety, you must determine when they are howling. If it is only when left alone then this will be a clear indication of separation anxiety.
Defecating & Urinating
You may return home after leaving your dog alone and find they have defecated or urinated in the house, which can be due to separation anxiety but also could be due to other medical conditions. It is important to clarify if it is anxiety causing this behavior or not. If they defecate or urinate while you are at home, then it is most likely not due to separation anxiety.
You may have seen your dog excessively pant and drool when going to the vet or during some other stressful experience. This can occur with separation anxiety and is more of a physical reaction from the body to stress and anxiety.
This is a behavior that owners tend to get the most upset with; destroying shoes, furniture, or clothes is a common sign of separation anxiety in dogs. The dog may be digging at the door to try to escape and causing damage to the door or finding their owner’s clothes and shoes that smell of their owner and destroying them due to their anxiety.
Attempting to Escape
Your dog may be so terrified of being left alone that they attempt to escape at any cost. This could result in damage to your home or injury to themselves, such as broken nails, chipped teeth, cuts, and soft tissue injuries. If your dog displays these signs while the owner is present, it is not likely caused by separation anxiety.
Trembling, Shaking, Crying
The dog’s body may respond to the anxiety by shaking, trembling, and crying. This can be upsetting to see your beloved pet crying and shaking when you return home. If this behavior is displayed while the owner is present, it is not considered separation anxiety.
Another symptom similar to that of humans with anxiety is pacing up and down while waiting for you to return home. Pacing can be a way to deal with their constant thoughts, and hope you return home to comfort them soon.
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
There is no set rule that will determine what causes separation anxiety in each case. Still, by evaluating each situation, we can discover the root of some dogs’ separation anxiety.
It is imperative to try to determine the cause of this issue so that you can work together with your dog to treat their anxiety disorder. So, let’s look at what causes separation anxiety in dogs.
Some animals may experience separation anxiety brought on by traumatic separation, which usually occurs as a puppy but can also occur as an adult. This could involve being left at a shelter by their owner, being given up for adoption suddenly, or an owner passing away.
Some dogs may become very familiar with their routine and surroundings, and when we disrupt any part of their world, it can bring on separation anxiety. Some examples of this could be a change to their schedule, absence of a family member, moving houses, or an addition to the family such as a baby or a new puppy.
Some breeds have a predisposition to developing separation anxiety due to the personality traits that they inherit from their parents. These are dogs that tend to be high-strung and have underlying anxiety issues. Some breeds that suffer the most from separation anxiety include poodles, huskies, labradors, retrievers, border collies, cocker spaniels, and vislas.
Lack of Stimulation
We already know how important it is for our dogs to be well exercised and stimulated for their mental health. It is especially important in treating and preventing separation anxiety. If your dog spends all day just sitting and waiting for you to get home, it will start to become stressed when you leave, become bored, and therefore anxious for you to return.
Sometimes a traumatic event in the home may cause your pet to develop separation anxiety, such as a robbery or violence. This may make them feel uneasy when left alone and bring back the tension of that traumatic event.
How to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Dealing with separation anxiety can be tough on dog owners, especially when your dog is disrupting neighbors with barking, having accidents inside, or destroying belongings and furniture.
One of the most significant things to learn as a dog owner is that any extreme reaction you display towards your dog will affect their anxiety. When you return home to a big mess in the house and start yelling or punishing your dog, this negative reinforcement will just increase their anxiety and will not help resolve their separation anxiety; if anything, it will make it worse.
It may be frustrating to see the mess your dog has created. Ignore them for 15 minutes when you get home, or until they become calm, and then quietly clean up the mess without triggering their anxiety again. Patience is key.
This same principle is applied to returning home and greeting your pet excitedly, making them place colossal importance and significance on your arrival home. Of course, we are all excited to see our fur babies at the end of a hard day at work, but it is best to calmly enter the house and gradually show them attention once they are calm.
If you have neighbors who are complaining about the noise your dog makes during the day while you are gone, it would be best to educate them about your dog’s anxiety disorder. Let them know that you acknowledge the issue and are proactively training them to avoid this behavior and/or seeking veterinary assistance.
How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Luckily for dog owners, there is a multitude of ways to reduce, prevent and treat separation anxiety in dogs! Of course, the best treatment in any condition is prevention, so if you have a puppy, following these steps from a young age will benefit you in the future. But for those with older dogs, there are still many ways to treat and manage separation anxiety.
Mental Stimulation and Enrichment
Put yourself in your dog’s (metaphorical) shoes for a moment and imagine you get all this love and attention when your owner is home- we are talking play-time, cuddles, and walks. Then, when your owner leaves the house, you are just left to sit on the couch with no one to play with.
Providing your pet with an enriched environment that they can enjoy without anyone being around is vital in fighting separation anxiety. For example, if your pet has mentally stimulating toys, feeding systems, and play areas, this can keep their mind occupied and entertained until you return home.
Replace their standard food bowl with a slow-feeding toy that requires mental and physical energy to get to the food. This can keep them occupied throughout the day, and you can have one with their regular meal and another with their treats.
There is a wide range of mentally stimulating toys that dogs can play with without the assistance of a human, and you can shop around until you find one that suits your dog! For example, if you have an outdoor area, you may want to install a dog play area with equipment that your dog can run and jump on or through.
You can even leave the radio or television on while you are out if the white noise calms your dog. In addition, there are various calming videos you can loop on YouTube for canine relaxation.
Establish Stable Routine
Establishing a routine for an anxious dog can be a great way to reduce general anxiety and train them into knowing what times they will be alone and when you will be around to give them attention.
You can try to establish their daily routine to make sure that they will have alone time at the same time every day (even when you are not leaving the house).
For example, a morning walk followed by some playtime at the same time each day. Feed them breakfast in a slow feeding toy and if you are at home (but usually would be out), leave your pet alone for these hours and allow them to entertain themselves or take a nap.
Resume interaction with your pet calmly when you would typically return home and begin their regular evening routine that will be the same almost every day.
We know you have a life but try to stick to their routine as much as you can. For example, if you cannot meet all their needs in the evening one day, try compensating with a long walk in the morning or extra playtime.
Meeting All Your Dog’s Needs With Play Sessions and Walks
It is so important that your interactions with your pet before and after you leave home meet all their social, physical, and mental requirements so that they are left feeling satisfied after each session. This includes the following aspects; social, training, engaging the sense, play, and of course, their toilet time.
To meet the social aspect of their needs, you should allow them to see and interact with other dogs (provided they are friendly and well-trained socially). Allow them to engage their senses by smelling all the weird smells outside. And incorporate some mental stimulation with training (this can be simple commands such as sit, wait, walk, etc.), and then have some fun with playtime.
Creating a Calm Relaxation Area
Your dog probably already has their bed, so we should aim to create positive feelings towards the rest area and make it the place your dog will voluntarily go for relaxation. You will have to train them initially by giving all of their positive reinforcement (treats, toys, and affection) in this area to feel happy and safe when they are in their bed.
Avoid using their bed or relaxation area as a punishment zone, which means no “go to your bed” when they do something wrong. This may have a negative association with their relaxation area.
Make sure that all their favorite things are with them in their relaxation zones, such as their toys, clothing items with the owner’s smell on them, and their slow feeders. If you are going to be using white noise to soothe your pet’s separation anxiety, it would be a good idea to have that playing near this area.
Crate training is an effective way to ease your dog’s separation anxiety and minimize the destructive symptoms of their disorder. By providing your dog with a crate as their safe space, you take away the constant stress of thinking about “what to do when my owner is gone.” Instead, you are giving them a direct order of what they must do in your absence- stay in their crate.
Some dogs will be so overwhelmed at the thought of being left alone that they end up making poor decisions on what to do as a result of their extreme anxiety.
Keeping your dog in a crate may seem unfair to them as they can’t roam freely. However, many dogs with separation anxiety greatly benefit from having a safe area to rest and knowing that they have a regular schedule and will be let out when you return home.
Of course, you must gradually and carefully train them to enjoy spending time in their crate with positive reinforcement. If the experience is too rushed or negative overall, they will reject the box and consider it a punishment.
You can start getting them used to the crate by luring them there with treats or toys and laying some more treats on the bed for them to enjoy. Once they are comfortable entering the container and laying down on the bedding (using some clothes that smell of you or your family member will also work), you can move on to the next step.
Now that they are comfortable lying in the crate, it is time to close the door and leave them there for a short period while you are at home (but out of sight). This could be 15 minutes at a time throughout the day and gradually work your way up to longer periods.
You can play calming white noise for them here, such as the radio or television, and make sure all their favorite toys and belongings surround them. It is essential to get a good quality crate and ensure that they cannot injure themselves on any part of the product.
Once they get used to their routine of being kept in the crate until you return home and provide they have plenty of mental stimulation in their box (slow-feeders, toys), you should notice a dramatic improvement in their separation anxiety.
Being kept in the crate minimizes the risk of displaying some troubling signs of anxiety, such as pacing, trying to escape, and destructive behavior.
For separation anxiety, you will need to use some basic training skills that your dog should already know (sit, stay, lie down) and some specific anxiety-reducing training. The most crucial part of separation anxiety training is training your dog to settle or calm.
You should be training your dog to be calm, especially for half an hour before you leave the house and half an hour after you return. This involves having your dog lying in their bed or relaxation zone and ultimately settling down before you give them any reward. If your dog is becoming excitable, simply wait until they stop to reward their good behavior.
Out-training attention-seeking behavior is vital to show that barking, crying, and jumping do not equal getting attention from you. When you reward good, calm behavior, it will help them realize that being calm is the way to get attention when you return home.
The time before you leave the house and when you return home are crucial to their training. If you are constantly giving big emotional goodbyes and hellos, this will place more importance on you leaving and make them more anxious for your return.
Home Remedies for Separation Anxiety in Dogs
For those who want a helping hand in treating their dog’s separation anxiety from a natural source, many natural remedies can help calm your dog’s anxious behavior. In addition, there are safe non-prescription options such as calming chews or powder for their food that you can purchase from your veterinarian.
You can look into CBD oil, chamomile extracts, valerian, or St John’s Wort for more natural herbal alternatives. These herbal remedies have been proven to reduce anxious thoughts and behaviors in humans and dogs alike. Please consult your veterinarian and do your own research to ensure you give the herbal extracts safely and with the correct dosage.
Essential oils can also provide a calming experience for your pet when used in their relaxation zone. For example, aromatherapy candles or essential oils sprayed on their bedding can help your pet to remain calm when you leave. Oils that have been linked to helping dogs’ separation anxiety are lavender, rose, violet leaf, and neroli.
Can Separation Anxiety in Dogs Cause Diarrhea?
Separation anxiety in dogs has the same toll on their body as extreme stress, and when the mind is stressed, there can be physical side effects such as diarrhea.
If your dog is experiencing anxiety, its body produces hormones and chemicals which can enter the digestive tract and upset the gut flora. This can cause a chemical imbalance that results in diarrhea.
It is vital not to punish your dog if they have an accident like this in the house, as it is not a malicious act. Instead, it is an uncomfortable symptom of their stress and anxiety. Treating the cause of the issue will stop this behavior, not negative reinforcement.
How Long Does Separation Anxiety in Dogs Last?
Some dogs will experience separation anxiety when they are puppies and grow out of it naturally; generally speaking, separation anxiety will last as long as it is untreated by the owner. Therefore, the sooner you acknowledge and diagnose the anxiety disorder of your dog and begin to treat it, the sooner you will resolve the issue.
If untreated and negative reinforcement is used to scold them for the symptoms they display secondary to their anxiety, your dog may learn to mask the symptoms. Still, the underlying issue of separation anxiety remains.
Once treatment begins, it can be slow to see progress at first, but after a few weeks, you will start to see your dog becoming more relaxed and comfortable when you leave home. Of course, it also depends on the severity of their anxiety disorder and whether veterinary controlled drug intervention is required.
When anti-anxiety drugs are given at the beginning of treatment, it can rapidly speed up the progress of medicine and make the training much easier for owners, especially in extreme cases. Sometimes we can taper off the heavier drugs once the training is developed and a calmer, more stable environment is established.
Suppose you are not comfortable giving prescription drugs to aid your dog or feel their condition is not severe enough to warrant this treatment. In that case, there are plenty of over-the-counter calming medications and herbal remedies to explore!
Medical Problems to Rule Out First
It is essential to ensure you are not mistaking the symptoms your dog is displaying as separation anxiety, when in fact, it could be an entirely different medical condition. The most common symptom people may misdiagnose is urinary incontinence.
Many medical conditions can cause urinary incontinence in dogs and may make them unable to control their bladder or wait until they leave the house. Some of the conditions that can cause incontinence include old age, Cushing’s disease, kidney failure, bladder stones, and diabetes.
If your dog is having accidents in the house, you should first assess if it could be any existing or new medical condition causing this. You can address this by visiting your veterinarian and possibly having their urine tested.
You can also ask your veterinarian if this is a known side effect of any medication your dog is currently taking, as sometimes urinary incontinence or house soiling can be a side effect of some drugs.
Other Behavioral Problems Associated with Separation Anxiety in Dogs
There can be other behavioral problems that display similar symptoms to separation anxiety in dogs. This can cause some confusion with owners and may lead to a misdiagnosis. Therefore, it is essential to decipher your pet’s behavior and consider all factors contributing to their behavior.
Some typical behavior issues that can mask themselves as separation anxiety can be found below.
Incomplete House Training
This is especially common in puppies or adult dogs that are recently adopted by new owners. In addition, some dogs will urinate in the house because they have not been toilet trained adequately or because they were house-trained using negative reinforcement and punishment, which is not effective training.
If this is the case, you may have to retrain your dog with positive reinforcement and correct house-training methods. If they stop once this training is complete, it is most likely not to do with separation anxiety.
Excitement or Submissive Urination
Puppies can be especially prone to excitable urination as they get so happy and excited when shown attention, and they aren’t sure how to control their emotions yet. Submission urination can also be a common cause of inappropriate urination, and the dog may urinate during greetings with humans and dogs, when being punished, or during playtime.
It is common for a dog who experiences submissive urination to have a certain posture by flattening the ears, crouching, or exposing its belly. If your dog is only urinating inappropriately during physical interactions, this most likely is not separation anxiety.
Some dogs will bark simply as a response to unfamiliar sounds or sights in their environment. To determine whether your dog is just loud or has separation anxiety, you should determine when they are barking.
If they are barking while you are home, then this is generally not considered separation anxiety. If you are getting reports from your neighbor that they bark all day, but you never hear them bark when you return home, this is a good indicator of separation anxiety.
Boredom can cause separation anxiety in an anxious dog, but bored dogs can also exist without anxiety. They may bark, howl, display destructive behavior simply because they are bored and want to do something. This is why it is so essential to make sure your dog has enough stimulation to entertain themselves while you are not present.
Destructive Chewing in Puppies
It is hard to determine with puppies if they are being destructive due to separation anxiety or if they are just simply naughty puppies who are learning to dig, chew, and destroy things while you are away!
Try to provide them with as much environmental enrichment as possible so they do not turn to destructive behavior.
Your dog may be scent-marking by urinating around the house. Generally, a dog marking its scent will do so by urinating small amounts on vertical surfaces. This is common when you take your dog on a walk but also can occur in the house.
How to Stop a Dog Howling When Left Alone
If your dog is only howling when left alone, it can definitely indicate separation anxiety. This is one of the symptoms that a dog with separation anxiety will display, so you must first treat the cause to treat the symptoms.
Follow our tips on “How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs.” If you are not seeing progress or feel that your dog has an extreme case and will not stop howling, you can seek professional veterinary assistance and/or herbal or medical drug therapy.
What NOT to do When it Comes to Dog Anxiety
The biggest rule when it comes to what not to do when looking after a dog with anxiety is never to punish your dog for its anxious behavioral traits. They are not acting out due to disobedience or rebellion. They are simply displaying nervous behaviors while trying to cope with extreme stress.
When you punish the dog for their behavior when experiencing anxiety, you may make the problem worse as they get more anxious. Instead, be patient with your dog because they are suffering from this very stressful experience, and knowing they are upsetting their owner will stress them out more.
Can Separation Anxiety be Prevented?
In some situations, separation anxiety in dogs can be prevented if you apply good training techniques from a young age. However, it will not always be preventable despite all the owner’s efforts.
If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, it can be a long and complicated road of treatment, and it’s always advised to ask for help. You may consult your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist for tips on treating this condition in the safest way possible.
As long as you remain patient, calm, and remember the importance of positive reinforcement training, you should be able to ease your dog’s suffering a little more every day.