Just like us, dogs can experience anxiety and its corresponding symptoms. While uncommon, especially in the early stages of puppyhood or, in the case of the pandemic, returning to work, if highly anxious dogs are left unchecked for too long it could lead to severe behavioural issues. Thus, it is important to understand what separation anxiety in dogs looks like, how to treat separation anxiety in dogs and how to prevent separation anxiety.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is described as a “condition in which a dog exhibits distress and behaviour problems when separated from its handler”. The condition can present in many different ways and can oftentimes be the result of trauma or breed specific needs.
Cause of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Like their human counterparts, dogs can develop anxious behaviours to varying degrees based on differing circumstances in their past or in some cases, physiological impairments. Understanding why your dogs act a certain way is important to know knowing how to calm and anxious dog.
The 3 most common sources of anxiety in dogs are: separation, fear and age. All 3 can contribute in some way to the increased risk of your pup developing separation anxiety. These are some of the most common causes of dogs:
Being left alone for the first time
This applies to any sort of situation where your pup is being left alone for the first time after having previously always been surrounded by people. This will likely become a much bigger problem as people begin to return to work, after the lengthy stay-at-home orders during the pandemic.
Separation anxiety in puppies is also quite common in the fist nights away from their mom.
Change in ownership or families
This is seen a lot particularly in puppies and rescue dogs. The first couple of nights for a new puppy can be fear inducing. While we don’t recommend never leaving your dog alone, ensure that there is always a balancing act between the amount of time spent with your dog and time spent away.
Coming from a shelter into a new home
Shelter dogs often have trust issues and can even exhibit aggressive behaviors while they are being adopted or in the short time right after. Typically this happens due to a harbouring of anxiety, which is common side effect when dogs have experienced previous instances of abandonment or abuse.
A sudden change in routine
This could apply again to a wide range of instances, such as moving houses, going on a vacation or, returning to the office for work.
Loss of a family member
Dogs grieve in similar fashions to us and oftentimes when their family member, furry or not, doesn’t come home it can create severe instances of anxiety and depression. CBD oil can be a great natural method of helping ease this grieving process.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs
How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety? While a great question, the answer can appear to be quite broad. Many of the symptoms addressed below can also be characterizing features of other conditions not related to separation anxiety. Another important thing to note when speaking to this topic is that not all dogs that display these symptoms are going to have clinical anxiety, but if your pet is displaying these signs continuously and unrelenting that is a sign of a bigger issue.
These symptoms include:
- Howling, Barking & Wining in Excess
- Frequency uncharacteristic accidents in the house
- Destructive behaviour; such as digging, chewing and/or scratching
- Excessive drooling, panting and salivation
- Consistent efforts to escape confinement
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety will display these symptoms and like minded ones on a regular and continuous basis. Understanding basic animal behavior, this points to a bigger issue, such a deepened anxiety.
Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Can a dog overcome separation anxiety? Talking to your vet should always be the first thing you do in situations like these, simply to rule out medical conditions or more serious health related issues. However, here are some treatments or home remedies for separation anxiety in dogs.
In many cases, dogs get bored which causes heightened anxiety causing them to chew, bark and in some cases urinate frequently. Treats and toys can be a great answer, when asking yourself how to help a dog with separation anxiety. For example a licky matt can be an awesome way to mentally stimulate your pet while you are away to ensure his mind is not focused on being alone.
Find a great treat, peanut butter also works great, and apply the food to the sticky mat, making sure to spread it well. Kafka's fresh meals actually work great as a topper and they are nutritionally balanced and complete for all life stages.
[insert link to kafkas]
Take The Excitement Out Of It
Emotions come into play a lot when we are considering the effect that it has on causing anxious tendencies in our pets. With that being said, make coming home and leaving the house as eventless as possible. Avoid departure cues such as raising or lowering your voice and using specific words.
Yes, it can be hard not to express utter excitement seeing our pups after a long day, but remember, that we are trying not to tie emotions to events!
Leave A Piece of You At Home
Dogs have a terrific sense of smell and it can be one of the best assets to use against them in situations such as these. For example, many breeders will send home each puppy with a blanker or toy that was rubbed in the mothers scent for a couple days, so that when the time comes for that puppy to go to its new home, the anxiety of leaving home will be slightly calmed by a maternal scent.
This method works best with an old t-shirt or stuffed animal.
Desensitize! Desensitize! Desensitize!
Dogs are smart, sometimes a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They tend to pick up on cues leading up to or that cause a certain event. For example, saying the word “walk” or grabbing the leash every time you leave to go outside. The same thing happens when we use the same routine everyday before we leave.
Get your pup used to triggers that indicate you are leaving the house: pick up your keys, put on your shoes and then sit down. Repeat this process daily until your pet is showing less interest. Eventually your pet will pick up that not every time you pick up your keys you are leaving, hence relinquishing the anxious tendencies.
Don’t Skip Out On Exercise
We have all gone to the gym or spent some time doing something particularly straining and immediately felt an urge to rest. The same thing happens with our dogs. Ensuring that your pup is getting more than enough exercise everyday will calm him, relax his nerves and reduce the energy he has to be anxious!
Preventing Anxiety in Dogs
All in all, anxiety is something that while cannot be predicted necessarily, there are steps you can take as a pet parent to help prevent it from happening. In serious cases, your vet may prescribe a dog anxiety medication or encourage you to use a dog anxiety vest.
Whatever the case or degree of anxiety remember that punishing your dog for displaying anxious behaviors is not the best course of action.
As per the words of Cesar Milan, world renowned dog trainer, “much of the cure for separation anxiety stems from obedience training and discipline” (Cesar's Way, N/A). Separation anxiety dog training, helps expectations become a habit and warrants discipline for unwanted behaviours. The key is having your dog understand what is expected of him, each and every day.
Work on simple cues with your pup: like having your dog sit, stay and lie down. By re-enforcing these commands, you are only solidifying the base of training and respect your pet will have for you.
Crate training your pup can be another useful resource to consider when working to prevent anxious tendencies. However, it is important to understand that the crate is not a punishment, but rather a safe haven for your dog and that message must be articulated clearly to your pet as the pet owner; otherwise your canine will learn to resent the crate, potentially making it another source for anxiety.
To ease the process, feed your pup it's meals in the crate, it’s favourite treats and be careful to only associate it with positive emotions and feelings.
Change Your Routine Up
Similar to how we can desensitize our dogs to certain triggers, we can also do this before the separation anxiety becomes a real and severe issue. Specifically in the early years of a puppy’s life, you should do your best to change up your pups routine frequently in order to establish a level of trust. Again, this goes back to having your dog understand what it is that is expected of him or her and that is something that is often established through obedience, discipline and consistency.Whatever the case, anxiety in dogs must be addressed and dealt with swiftly to ensure minimal damage is done! Know that professional help is always an option as well!