What is separation anxiety in dogs and how can you help your pup?
Getting a puppy and having a dog is so wonderful but when your dog exhibits stress whenever you leave the house and shows signs of separation anxiety, it can be upsetting for both owners and dogs.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is when your dog or puppy exhibits stress if you leave the house. Symptoms can vary but your dog will display severe anxiety.
If you are away for long periods of time, you may consider booking your dog into our Bark & Birch doggy cay care, so your dog can have company and socialise with other dogs and remain stimulated in body and mind.
Why are some dogs unsettled when left alone?
There are some common reasons as to why dogs may suffer from separation anxiety:
- The dog may never have been left alone before and isn’t used to being separated from their owner.
- There is a stress point either inside or outside, such as the post man coming or loud rain or thunder. This may have only happened once but has been enough to trigger stress when they’re alone, with your dog reliving or pre-empting that fear.
- They may have lost their companion dog or cat and feel sad and lonely without them.
- They may suffer from boredom. This may happen with highly energetic breeds or if your dog hasn’t had enough exercise or stimulation. Remember to keep your dog enriched, mentally and physically.
- Rescue dogs or those who have been re-homed will experience anxiety, especially if they have been previously left at a dog’s home or shelter or re-homed several times. Separation becomes triggering for these vulnerable souls.
How to spot separation anxiety in dogs
- Howling or excessive barking
- Going to the toilet inside
- Destroying items in the home
- Chewing items that may have your smell
- Hoarding your items in their basket
You may recognise these behaviours if your dog is struggling with separation anxiety. Your dog becomes upset and distressed when you are getting ready to leave and they become clingy and anxious when you go out of the door.
Normally, the first 20 minutes are the most intense for a dog suffering from separation anxiety. They may bark persistently, howl or cry and show classic behaviours of upset and anxiety.
At this time, they may also display symptoms of fear and fight or flight. Scratching at doors or windows and trying to find a way to get out or escape. Their bodies will be responding too, with an increased heart rate, panting or going to the toilet as a stress response.
After the initial panicked period of time, your dog may hoard items of yours that smell of you and carry your scent. They may chew or lick these, trying to gain security and a safe haven. Alternatively, they may destructively chew items such as slippers or trainers that you have left within reach.
On your return to the house, your dog won’t let you out of his sight. Following you from room to room and becoming your shadow. This clingy behaviour will increase as they worry you may leave the house again, then the cycle repeats and the anxiety grows.
How to help your puppy or new dog get used to being left alone
It is always a good idea to start your puppy young when training him to cope alone and get him ready for any times you are out of the house. Remember, dogs are pack animals and love company and to be part of a group, so being alone isn’t natural for them. If getting another dog as a companion isn’t feasible or practical, try to start your puppy young when training so he gets used to these periods and it lessens the anxiety.
The aim of this is to teach your puppy that being alone isn’t scary and doesn’t need to generate fear and anxiety, If anything, it is a time for your dog to decompress and relax, ready for even more fun when you get back home!
- Try not to just leave your dog in one area like a kitchen or utility room. They will associate this area as where they are left and you want them to feel as comfortable and chilled as possible. Be wary that specific areas will attach fear of isolation and exacerbate the problem
- Consider a stair gate- these are great as they aren’t as scary for your pup as a closed door and they can still see and feel free and not enclosed.
- Practice with a stair gate when you are in the house so your pup gets used to some healthy distance and time apart and isn’t constantly with you. You can build this up softly for longer periods while you are home so your pup doesn’t become completely reliant on you and your company.
- Make sure there is a comfy bed, food and water in this area or why not leave the TV or radio on at a lower level for some reassuring sounds.? This works for drowning out slamming doors and sounds from the outside, that may stress your dog.
- Leave an item of your clothing down so your dog can feel reassured and safe with your smell.
- You can also try plug in calming room scents or oils which have been shown to decrease stress,
- At random times during the day put your dog in his area with the stair-gate and give him some tasty food or his favourite toy so that he feels happy and comfortable, keep opening the stair-gate so he is used to choosing to stay in there!
- Gradually increase the time your dog is in their area so they get used to longer periods
- Once your dog is used to this you can begin to get them ready for you actually leaving the house for short periods!
- Build up the time, so it isn’t too long too fast…
11. If your dog starts to show anxiety take a few steps back and start again.
12. Make sure your dog is happy and comfortable in his area.
13. Get your dog used to you picking up your keys and bag and popping a coat on so it isn’t a shock or worrying for him when you do it to leave for real!
14.It is always best to not make a huge song and dance about leaving the house, don’t make a big deal of saying goodbye or fuss or smother your dog! Keep it casual.
15.Do the same on your return, keep your greetings low key and calm so your dog doesn’t get hyper.
16.Try not to react badly if your dog has gone to the toilet or destroyed something in your absence. Punishment will not help.
Why punishment won’t help
Of course, you will feel annoyed or disappointed if you come home and find your new pair of trainers destroyed by your stressed out puppy, but it’s important not to punish your dog for this. Dogs associate being told off with what they are doing in that moment and at that exact time, not what they have done in the past.
Even showing your dog the eaten trainer or scratched door frame or taking them to ‘the scene of the crime’ won’t make him remember or realise what he has done. They simply won’t be able to make the connection between the punishment and something they did in the past.
Punishment will make separation anxiety far worse. Your dog will not only be anxious and stressed to be left, but now fear their owner returning home, making symptoms ten times worse.
At Bark & Birch, we want you and your dog to live a happier life together and we know that this is possible!