The whining, the crying, the barking. Most days it is far too much to bear. Do you ever wonder if these are signs of separation anxiety? It very well could be. Even if you (and your neighbors) can tolerate it when you leave, it can start getting much worse! Doggie anxiety can sometimes just be annoying. But what happens when your dog starts destroying things or worse… hurting themselves?!
Separation anxiety in dogs is very common. A surprising amount of owners claim they need help with this. Does your dog show signs of separation anxiety?
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Separation Anxiety?
The signs of separation anxiety are fairly easy to spot. There are a few questions you can ask yourself to see if this is the issue you and your dog are dealing with.
Does your dog panic when you leave the room then immediately go to follow you?
Does she have accidents in the house even though she is fully house trained?
If you crate him, does he try to “dig” his way out?
If you had to answer “yes” to any of these questions, it is likely your pup suffers from Separation Anxiety. You are far from alone on this one!
Why Do Dogs Get Separation Anxiety?
Yes, your dog loves you very much! But this problem goes far deeper than that fact. Dogs, by nature, are pack animals. They are completely dependant on their pack. In the wild, dogs depend on all the other members of the pack for protection, help, and comfort. Being alone makes them feel uneasy and left out to “fend” for themselves. Guess what — you are your dog’s pack! Instinctually, your dog is attached to you. When you leave and they are not able to follow, they will grow flustered.
Some people say signs of separation anxiety are more common in shelter dogs. They have already experienced the feeling of abandonment. As the AKCpoints out, small breeds and “people-oriented” breeds are also more likely to have separation anxiety. Life stresses like moving or loss of a loved one can also trigger this stressful condition in your pup.
Like most behaviors, separation anxiety is a conditioned response. It happens when your pup starts to associate your actions with you leaving. Their behaviors are reinforced when your routine is always the same. When you go through the same routine every morning. Or when you give him extra attention before you leave.
Combating Separation Anxiety
There are many ways to reduce the anxiety your dog feels when you leave the house. Here are a few of the easiest methods to start out with.
Change Your Routine
Start by changing your morning routine. This is the fastest and easiest way to “throw off” your buddy. Does your
dog start acting strange the second your alarm clock goes off?
Your dog knows this is the beginning of the leaving-the-house ritual. Some things to try are:
Get up at different times.
Change up your alarm sound.
Get dressed out-of-order from your norm.
If you take them potty right before you leave, take them out a bit sooner.
Get out your keys and just leave them out
A lot of dogs associate the sound of your keys with leaving. Show them your keys don’t mean anything. Through the day, pick up your keys and move them to different parts of the house without leaving. Any little variation will reduce your best friend’s pre-leaving anxiety. Remember to switch it up.
Don’t Reinforce It
If your dog shows signs of separation anxiety, do not reinforce it. Lavishing your dog with lots attention when you leave or arrive is only reinforcing the behavior. The easiest way to cut anxiety is to remove the ties between your presence and their attention. It might sound cold, but ignore your dog for 10-15 minutes when you get home. You can say hi. Just do not make a big fuss.
I do this with Ryder a lot. I will come in, put up my coat, unload my lunch bag, and wait until his excitement calms down. Then I will greet him the way I want. I also switch it up day to day. Some days I will come in the door and go straight for the leash to take him out. Being different and unexpected helps reduce the stressful symptoms.
Don’t pet them when you leave. Don’t give in when they make sad noises as you walk out. You can practice with crate training. Have them crate up for a few minutes here and there while you are home. Or put her in a separate room in your house for small intervals.
Building Up to Longer Times
Start working on leaving the house more often for shorter periods of time. You can even try leaving for a few seconds and then come right back in. You have to change your dog’s expectations for how long you’ll be gone and when you’ll be back. If they see you coming back each time, you can stretch out how long you are able to leave.
Take a Deep Breath
You may feel that these solutions to anxiety are cruel to your buddy. In reality, you are helping your dog relax. You are assuring them that you are not only coming home but that you are in charge. There is no reason for them to feel that anxiety. Reduced dog separation anxiety is good for your health and his — both physical and mental.
If your dog has prolonged, severe anxiety problems, it is important to address it right away. Even if your dog is just upset and doesn’t destroy anything when you leave. You can reduce your dog’s feeling of abandonment when you teach him not to associate your presence with their survival. So take a deep breath, relax and focus on the goal — less stress. Your dog will also sense your mood and follow along.
Here are a couple of book recommendations on dog separation anxiety. Check them out and let us know what has helped your pup.
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My dog has terrible separation anxiety and it stems from his former family moving and abandoning him. We were told by people who knew them that he chased them down the road as the drove away. How people can do that, I will never know. We immediately hired a vet who primarily does behavior modification, but he still ended up on medication. I liked your ideas and will have to start changing up my routine because I think that will help!
Front Seat Ryder
Oh, that breaks my heart! Dogs are very sensitive. I am so glad Snickers has you! Let me know how my tips work for you both and if you find another solution that eases his symptoms. Best to both of you!!