Don’t Despair – You Can Break Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
Is your dog exhibiting signs of distress like barking, howling or destructive behaviors every time you leave them at home alone? Do they frantically scratch at doors or windows trying to reunite with you? If so, your furry friend may be suffering from separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a common behavioral issue in dogs that occurs when they become excessively distressed from being left alone or separated from their owners.
It often develops between 6-18 months of age and can stem from a lack of proper socialization or negative experiences associated with being left unattended.
Whatever the cause, separation anxiety can be trying on both ends of the leash.
The good news is that with consistency, patience and the right training techniques, it is possible to break the cycle of separation anxiety and help your dog become more independent and relaxed when home alone.
While prevention starting in puppyhood is ideal, dogs of any age can overcome problematic separation behaviors with time and effort.
What Does Separation Anxiety Look Like in Dogs?
How can you tell if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety versus general misbehavior? There are some clear signs that signal distress specifically related to being left alone.
Common symptoms of separation anxiety include:
- Excessive vocalization – barking, whining or howling when left alone
- Destructiveness – chewing, digging, scratching doors or walls
- House soiling – urinating or defecating despite being house-trained
- Pacing, restlessness, panting
- Depression or lethargy after the owner’s departure
- Excessive salivation or drooling
Dogs with separation anxiety tend to exhibit these behaviors within minutes of the owner leaving. The distress continues until the owner returns. Severe cases may also involve loss of appetite or self-harming behaviors.
Understanding the specific signs of separation anxiety can help distinguish it from general misbehavior or boredom. While any destructive tendency should be curbed, anxiety-driven behaviors require specialized treatment focused on independence training.
Left untreated, separation anxiety often escalates over time. Early intervention is best for the welfare of both the dog and owner.
Next we’ll go over some of the root causes of this disorder and why it develops.
Why Do Some Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety can stem from a variety of factors that ultimately result in a dog being unable to cope when left alone. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Lack of socialization as a puppy – Dogs that aren’t adequately exposed to new environments, people and experiences during puppyhood are more likely to develop attachment issues.
- Changes in routine or environment – Major changes like moving homes, switching owners, or shifting schedules can trigger separation anxiety.
- Traumatic experiences when left alone – If a dog has ever been frightened by a storm, loud noise or other trauma while unattended, it can cement negative associations.
- Genetics and breed tendencies – Some breeds like retrievers, collies, and shepherds are genetically more prone to bonding closely and struggling with independence.
- Medical conditions – Physical or neurological issues can occasionally contribute to clingy, anxious behaviors.
- Negative reinforcement – Punishing a dog upon your return can worsen their anxiety at being left alone.
Separation anxiety usually surfaces between 6-18 months of age as pups grow more independent, but then panic without their owners nearby.
Preventing it early on is ideal.
Next we’ll go over some tips for avoiding separation issues in puppies.
Setting Puppies Up for Success: Prevention Tips
While separation anxiety cannot always be completely prevented, there are key things you can do with a new puppy to promote independence and reduce the chances of attachment issues emerging down the road:
- Proper socialization – Gradually expose puppies to new people, animals, places, sights and sounds in a positive way. This builds confidence.
- Obedience training – Basic commands and manners teach a pup impulse control. Training also strengthens your bond and leadership role.
- Establish a routine – Regular schedules for feeding, walks, play and training helps a puppy feel secure.
- Crate training – Get puppies comfortable with spending time in their crate with positive associations.
- Physical and mental exercise – A tired puppy is less likely to get anxious or destructive when alone. Provide adequate exercise and stimulation.
- No emotional hellos/goodbyes – Greet your puppy calmly and don’t make a big fuss when departing. This prevents anxious anticipation.
With the right early foundations, you can help your puppy become more sure of themselves and less prone to separation distress as an adult dog.
Next we’ll go over effective training techniques for adult dogs struggling with this disorder.
Training Techniques to Help Adult Dogs Overcome Separation Anxiety
If your adult dog is exhibiting separation anxiety, don’t despair. While the process takes patience and commitment, there are effective training techniques that can help your dog become more comfortable when left alone.
Here are some of the most common methods:
- Desensitization – Gradually get your dog used to being alone by starting with very short departures and slowly increasing duration. Don’t push too far too fast.
- Interactive toys – Keep your dog occupied with food puzzles, treat balls, stuffed Kongs or other engaging toys only used when departing.
- Create a safe space – Designate a comfortable crate or small room as your dog’s designated space when alone. Introduce slowly.
- Calming aids – Pheromone diffusers, thundershirts, calming supplements or medications recommended by a vet can take the edge off.
- Exercise beforehand – Make sure your dog gets adequate exercise to tire them out before being left alone. A tired dog is a calmer dog.
- Obedience commands – Teaching commands like “settle” and “quiet” can help refocus an anxious dog’s energy.
- Ignore extra excited greetings – Don’t give excessive affection or attention immediately upon returning, as this can reinforce anxiety.
With consistent training, you can teach your dog how to self-soothe and remain calm when you leave the house. Be patient – separation anxiety can take weeks or months to fully resolve depending on the severity.
When Is Professional Help Needed?
While many mild cases of separation anxiety can be managed with dedicated training by an owner, some situations warrant seeking professional help from an animal behaviorist or certified trainer:
- Severe separation anxiety that is not improving over time despite your efforts
- Destructive behavior that poses a safety risk, causes property damage or disrupts neighbors
- Self-harming behaviors like excessive drooling, vomiting or loss of appetite
- Recommendation of anti-anxiety medication or pheromone therapy by your veterinarian
- A need for customized desensitization programs you don’t have the time, skill or resources to implement
Reputable trainers can design tailored treatment plans involving desensitization, simulated absences, obedience work and more. They can also evaluate your dog’s unique triggers and circumstances to advise specialized techniques.
In some cases, prescription anti-anxiety medication may be recommended by your vet in conjunction with behavior modification training. Medication can help take the edge off while your dog learns to overcome the anxiety itself.
If your dog’s separation anxiety is severe or not improving with your own efforts, don’t hesitate to consult the experts. They can help get anxiety to a manageable level.
Living With a Dog with Separation Anxiety
Managing life with a dog with separation anxiety can be challenging. Here are some tips for coping while also continuing to work on your dog’s independence training:
- Be patient and committed to the process – This disorder takes time and consistency to fully resolve. Stick with what works and don’t lose hope.
- Maintain regular routines – Dogs with separation anxiety thrive on predictability. Keep feeding, walking and training schedules consistent.
- Provide adequate physical and mental exercise – A tired dog copes better when alone. Interactive toys are also useful.
- Use baby monitors/cameras – Monitoring your dog’s progress when you’re not home can help identify triggers and celebrate small wins.
- Create a safe, comfortable space – Whether a crate or small room, ensure your dog has a place they associate with security when alone.
- Ask for help from neighbors/friends – If your schedule makes training difficult, consider asking others to assist with short practice sessions.
- Don’t punish anxious behaviors – Yelling, scolding or otherwise reacting to their anxiety can make it worse. Stay calm and positive.
With time, consistency and removal of triggers, your dog can learn to become more independent and relaxed at home alone. The key is not giving up too soon. Celebrate small victories and you’ll get there!
Other Common Questions About Canine Separation Anxiety
What’s the difference between separation anxiety and regular misbehavior?
Separation anxiety manifests right when an owner departs, due to distress at the separation. Regular misbehavior can occur at any time whether the owner is home or not. Separation anxiety may also involve depression, lethargy, and loss of appetite – not just destruction.
My dog follows me everywhere. Is that separation anxiety?
Not necessarily. Many dogs simply enjoy being near their owners. Separation anxiety shows excessive distress when the owner leaves. If your dog can relax alone for short periods, it’s likely not separation anxiety.
Is crate training recommended for separation anxiety?
Yes, if introduced positively. The crate should be a place of security. Start with short sessions and reward calm behavior in the crate. It should not be used punitively or exacerbate their distress at being confined when alone.
Are certain breeds more prone to separation anxiety?
Yes. Breeds that form close bonds like retrievers, shepherds, hounds and collies are at higher risk. Herding breeds often struggle more with being separated from their “flock.”
Can separation anxiety appear suddenly in an adult dog?
Yes, it can emerge at any age due to changes in routine, environment, family structure, or in response to a traumatic event when left alone. Sudden onset warrants a veterinary exam to rule out medical issues.
What if I live in an apartment? My dog’s crying disturbs the neighbors.
Consider soundproofing, or use white noise machines to dull the sounds when departing. Inform neighbors you’re actively working on training, and make sure your dog gets adequate exercise before being left alone.