Coming home to a stressed dog and a scene of devastation is never a good outcome to leaving your dog alone. But, for many dogs, separation from their family can cause such huge distress that they end up causing significant damage to themselves and the home.
In this guide, we help you understand the signs of canine separation anxiety and provide some strategies to help your dog learn to cope with time alone.
What is dog separation anxiety?
If your dog shows signs of distress when you’re not around, they may be suffering from a condition known as separation anxiety. This is characterized by behaviors that seem to indicate that the dog is anxious or fearful due to a lack of the usual people or animals in the house.
For some dogs, medication from the vets, CBD oil for dogs Canada, or the help of a qualified and experienced behaviorist may be needed. Where the issue is less severe, then you may be able to help your four-legged friend with the advice we provide later on in this guide.
Signs of separation anxiety
Not all dogs will show all signs, but the indicators of separation anxiety include the following –
1. Destructive behaviors
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety often exhibit destructive behaviors, such as chewing on objects they would never usually think about destroying. If this only happens when the owners are out of the house, then that’s a good indication of separation anxiety.
2. Barking and Howling
Some dogs might also bark or howl excessively when left alone or when separated from their guardians. The vocalization is usually continuous and only happens when left alone.
3. Urinating and Defecating
Some dogs seem to lose all of their house training when left in the house alone. It’s important to remember that this isn’t the dog being disobedient or deliberately naughty; it’s caused by the extreme stress they are feeling from being left alone.
When a dog with separation anxiety is left alone, then they may try to break out to return to be with their family. To do this, they may scrape at the doors or window sills, resulting in injuries, such as broken teeth and damage to nails and paws.
Helping your dog deal with separation anxiety
Although a bit of separation anxiety is normal in dogs, too much can be very stressful and impinge on the quality of life for both you and your pet. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your pup cope with the situation more effectively.
1. Understand why your dog is becoming anxious
Firstly, it is important to understand why your pup is feeling anxious. Is it because they don’t get enough exercise? Do they need more companionship throughout the day? Once you find the root of their anxiety, it may be possible to fix the problem right away. Perhaps you need to book more doggy playdates or take your pup for daily walks for extra stimulation.
2. Ensure your dog has been exercised and had the opportunity to toilet
A dog that is relaxed from having sufficient physical and mental exercise may be able to cope with separation more easily. Also, ensuring they have had the opportunity to empty themselves reduces anxiety over not being able to go outside.
3. Creating a comfortable environment
Creating a comfortable and familiar environment for your dog when you leave can also help. Making sure there are soft blankets available and providing them with favorite toys or treats that will keep them occupied until your return can help to temporarily ease their anxiety levels.
4. Calm goodbyes
Making goodbyes calm and painless also ensures that associates leaving with positive associations rather than fearfulness, as this will help reduce any anxiousness when in future situations like goodbyes.
Next steps to help your dog with separation anxiety
If these first steps are not helping your dog to cope with being alone, then you may need to implement a behavior modification plan to help your dog to learn that it’s okay to be by themselves.
1. Relaxing in the home without you by their side
If your dog is the type who likes to follow you around everywhere, then they may be more likely to experience anxiety when they are suddenly left alone.
2. Alone time
Aim to give your dog alone time throughout the day so that it becomes a normal part of the day. Good times to do this would be after a walk and when they have a full tummy after a meal. They are likely to be calmer and more likely to sleep at these times.
3. Being alone = good treats!
Your dog can also learn to associate being alone with good things happening, such as being given a tasty and long-lasting chew to eat. This might include stuffed Kongs or chews. Do be aware that if your dog is highly stressed, then they may not want to eat no matter how good the treat is.
4. Slowly increase time alone
Build up the time that your dog is away from you very slowly and in a very structured way. For some dogs, that might mean being left for ten seconds before you return and then increasing it to 20, 30, 40, etc.
As soon as you leave your dog for too long and they become anxious again, then you have undone all the good work you have put in. So, implementing this may need you to take a couple of weeks off work to implement the plan. While this may seem like a slow process, if it then enables your dog to be relaxed while you’re out for the rest of their life, then it’s time well invested.
5. Professional help
Finally, if these strategies are not helping, then you may want to consult an animal behaviorist who specializes in helping animals cope with separation anxiety and other issues. With dedication and patience, you should be able to make your furry companion feel much more secure while you are away.
Dogs with separation anxiety can be a challenge to live with, but there are ways to make the situation easier to cope with for both of you. With some patience and effort, you can help your dog feel more comfortable when you’re not there and keep his anxiety from causing other problems in your home.
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