If your dog exhibits negative behaviors when you aren’t home, it could be a sign of dog separation anxiety.
Learn how to ease dog separation anxiety by using a mix of different techniques.
Help calm anxious dogs with special toys, fun activities, calming treats, cuddle beds, or veterinarian-prescribed medications.
No pet parent wants to see their barking pal in distress, especially as you head out the door. For dog owners unfamiliar with anxious canines, destructive behavior isn’t a sign of a bad pet. Instead, it’s a sign of dog separation anxiety. Know that your pup cares about you and only acts out to express their feelings.
Of course, no one wants to come home to a ripped-up sofa, chewed-up shoes, or a toppled-over garbage can. Exhibiting these behaviors doesn’t mean you must punish your dog. These behaviors reveal that your furry friend is experiencing dog separation anxiety.
Dog Separation Anxiety
As stated by the Merck Veterinary Manual, canine separation anxiety occurs when your barking pal isn’t able to find comfort while you or other family members are away. They make a mess while you’re out, but once you get back home, they act thrilled and cling to you, following you around.
Regardless of what they do while they’re alone, keep in mind that pups are children at heart. What does this mean? Research from the American Psychological Association has shown that dogs have the intelligence of human toddlers. A canine’s measurable intelligence is on par with human children between 2 and 2.5 years old.
It’s essential for your dog's mental and emotional well-being that you react to their negative behaviors calmly. It matters how you treat them because they don’t know any better. Everything you do is ineffective if they are afraid, sad, or frustrated.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
What are the signs of dog separation anxiety? Symptoms include pacing, whining, barking, howling, urinating, defecating, chewing, digging, escaping, destructing, and possible coprophagia. Excessive salivating, restlessness, decreased or increased appetite, and repetitive or compulsive behaviors can also be possible signs.
Whining, barking, howling, or other distressing vocalizations due to separation anxiety often occur right after you leave the house. They may begin to whine as you prepare to leave. For instance, putting on your shoes, coat, or hat and grabbing your keys are familiar actions to your dog because they already associate it with your forthcoming absence. They could whine while sitting in front of the door. Neighbors may complain your dog has been howling or barking non-stop since you left home. Pacing is another sign, and you might see worn-down areas of the rug from their constant movements.
Urine and Feces
If your lovable companion is urinating or defecating while you’re gone, it’s a likely sign of separation anxiety. Soiling areas of the house while you’re out and then hiding once you discover the mess are both signs of anxiety. Hiding indicates they’re afraid of your reaction.
Coprophagia can be a symptom of separation anxiety too. It occurs when your dog eats their feces or the feces of another pet. They might not do this in front of their owners. Recording your four-legged companion while you’re out could help find some answers.
Chewing and general destruction of household items are common signs of canine separation anxiety. They miss you so much that they could seek out your shoes, clothes, or cell phone chargers to chew them up. They might chew on corners of the door, door frames, and window sills and even tear up part of the linoleum flooring. You might notice stuffing trailing the hallways because they destroyed your couch cushions, sofa, or pillows.
Digging or escaping is also indicative of separation anxiety. You might notice corners of the carpet torn up, particularly near the doors. Digging could be a follow-up to chewing parts of the door off. This behavior could look like they are trying to escape their confines. Not for the sake of leaving the house, but likely for looking for you. Pet parents who let their dogs play in the backyard alone may come across holes in or near the fence. Once they escape the yard, the danger level increases for them. They might get hit by a car or caught by animal control.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
Several things can trigger canine anxiety. It’s essential to consider their background and family history. Also, dogs get sad too. Experts have noted that dogs do mourn the loss of a loved one. Here are questions that every pet parent considers when their dog is showing signs of stress.
Was Your Canine Adopted?
It matters where your pup came from. If you adopted them from an animal shelter, find out more. Did they suffer abuse? Were they abandoned? Coming from a traumatic background influences their personalities and behavior.
Are There New Household Members, or Is Someone Missing?
When your furry companion isn’t used to new people in the home, it could take some time to get used to it. If you leave them alone, your doggo might act out even when this new household member is present. Their separation anxiety can also intensify if a household member has moved or died. Like humans, dogs mourn the loss of their animal or human loved ones.
Do They Only Act Up at Certain Times of the Day?
Some dogs might exhibit anxiety at night or early morning hours. It comes down to examining what’s happening during those times. Was there a change in your work schedule? Any abrupt changes to the routine may trigger their anxious behaviors.
Did You Move?
Moving can be stressful for every home member, including all your pets. An unfamiliar place comes with new aromas and unexplored areas. Separation anxiety may arise until they become comfortable in the new home.
Tips for Easing Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
Curious about how long it takes to cure dog separation anxiety? There’s no easy answer, but you must remain patient. There’s no such thing as fixing dog separation anxiety quickly. The process may take longer for some pets than others. It depends on the underlying factors that contribute to their anxiety.
In some cases, experts recommend enrolling in dog separation anxiety training. The training could include puzzles and cognitive stimulation games. You might hear about dog separation anxiety crates as a form of treatment. However, according to Dr. Terri Bright, a canine behavioral specialist at MSPCA, “Dogs with separation anxiety shouldn’t be crated. [...] This is important. It’s dangerous -- they’re already panicking, so they may try to escape and hurt themselves.”
Getting enough physical activity can help your dog overcome their anxiety. Doing fun activities with your furry friend has lasting benefits for everyone involved.
Connect With Your Doggo: One-on-One Playtime
Playing with your dog helps develop a deeper sense of trust. When you’re engaging them, it’s easy to tell when they’re happy. After all, the thrilled yapping and wagging tail are tell-tale signs that your dog is having a good time. Giving them your undivided attention can also strengthen the pet and pet-parent bond. Play wrestling, keep away, and fetch are popular games you can try to achieve that.
Going for daily walks is healthy for you and your pet. Studies show that dog walking makes the owner happy because they think it makes their dog happy. Of course, daily walks for humans improve cardiovascular fitness and lower stress. This is also true for canines.
Daily dog walks help you and your pet get fresh air and natural light. It also improves your dog's socialization skills. Walking is a low-impact exercise; it helps your pet maintain a healthy weight, stay agile, have strong bones, and cuts their boredom. This contributes to lower stress, impacting their level of destructive or worrisome behavior. One walk daily is good, but many daily walks are even better. Develop a schedule or fixed routine and expect great results.
Structuring your dog's playtime to include an occasional or regular trip to the dog park helps improve their mood and lower their stress. According to the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), dog parks have benefits that positively impact pets, pet owners, and the community. Bringing your four-legged companion to the dog park gives them an outlet for any stored up energy. It also teaches them to interact with other dogs and people in a healthy, safe way.
Chewing on furniture and other household objects is frustrating for everyone at home. Your barking companion doesn’t know any better, especially when they miss you. Destructive chewing is a symptom of separation anxiety and is a way for them to get attention. As stated by the ASPCA, dogs that lack enough exciting activities may resort to biting, shaking, tearing, or chewing on objects.
Keep your pup busy while you’re gone by getting some exciting separation anxiety dog toys. It may take a little experimentation because not all toys work. If they like tugging and shaking, you can try tying a tug rope to something stable. Is there cushion stuffing everywhere? Invest in some stuffed dog toys or squeezable squeak toys.
Ever tried dog entertainment? Dog-inspired television and radio stations can keep your pet preoccupied while you’re away. Who hasn’t enjoyed the YouTube videos of doggos enamored with a movie? You can try playing wildlife videos of squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits, or stream dogs playing frisbee.
Playing music for your dog reduces their stress. If you work long hours and get reports from neighbors of constant barking, it might be time for some harmonious intervention. Remember, not all genres are equal. It might take some trial and error before they find the right musical beats to which they relax.
Calming Cuddle Bed
Research has shown a connection between weighted blankets and lower stress levels in humans. A blanket that can help your body relax and get restful sleep is handy. Why wouldn’t something similar help canines?
A calming cuddle bed or blanket for your dog provides the same comfort level. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Who doesn’t enjoy being cozy, warm, relaxed, and wrapped up in a soft blanket while lying in bed? Dogs need quality sleep just as much as humans do. A good dog bed ensures they get some decent sleep. It’s also a safe, relaxing space for them while you’re away.
Consulting With the Vet
Dog separation anxiety medication is available in extreme cases. Consult with your veterinarian for the right treatment plan and anxiety meds for dogs.
Still, finding alternative routes for “fixing” canine separation anxiety is best before turning to meds. Going to a vet would be the next step when you have exhausted all the usual tricks like physical activity, mental stimulation, one-on-one time, and calming strategies.
Have Patience and Consider All Calming Routes
Approach your dog with love, patience, and joy as you help them overcome their separation anxiety. Understanding the root cause of your dog's anxiety makes it easier to find a solution that helps them.
Using a mix of physical activity with a solid routine can help reduce dog separation anxiety. The process may take time, but there’s no reason you can’t strengthen that bond along the way.
Training your dog to behave while at home alone sometimes requires incentives. On top of the activities you scheduled, try some calming zen chews. What’s a better motivating factor than tasty treats?
Visit CalmingDog to find products and other helpful information about your canine companion.