Dogs are sociable creatures, and like to be beside their pack. They actively seek contact with their social group – whether that’s in the wild, or as a domesticated pet in your home. Separation anxiety most commonly occurs when dogs don’t learn that it’s ok to be alone as part of their daily routine. Of course, there are also other triggers, including:
- Moving to a new home
- An addition of a new family member
- A change in routine
This last point – a change in routine – is something that a lot of dogs will be experiencing right now as we return to our normal activities post-lockdown.
What are the signs of separation anxiety?
It differs from one dog to another, but signs may include:
- Unwanted toileting
- Barking and howling
- Chewing, digging or destroying things
Of course, these behaviours may occur for a variety of reasons. If they are happening while you are with your dog, the chances are they aren’t a symptom of separation anxiety. For example, unwanted toileting may just be a result of ineffective or incomplete toilet training.Dogs of all ages may bark in response to triggers such as the postman, or unfamiliar sights or sounds. It’s, therefore, important that you rule out any other causes first.
How to help a dog with separation anxiety
The ‘treatment’ will depend on the severity of the separation anxiety. The tips below assume that the dog is displaying only mild symptoms of separation anxiety. If your fur baby is showing signs of moderate to severe separation anxiety, we recommend speaking to your vet or a qualified dog trainer or behaviorist.
Dealing with separation anxiety means that you need to teach – or re-teach – your dog that it’s ok to be left on their own for short periods of time. So, you need to turn a situation that they might currently find stressful into something more positive.
How do you do this?
Try leaving your dog with an exciting toy or treat while you’re away. This will help your dog to associate being on their own with a good thing. Kongs are great, as are puzzle boards that require the dog to use their brain to release a treat.
Whatever you use, be sure to remove it once you get home – you want your dog to associate this treat or item with you being out of the house.
- Try and take your dog for a walk before you leave. The exercise and the opportunity to do wees and poos will help them to relax
- Consider closing the blinds so that your dog is less likely to see distractions from the outside
- Many owners also like to leave the TV or the radio on, and this can help to prevent your dog hearing noises that might trigger barking
- Ask somebody to pop in and say “hello”, or take them for a walk during the day – we can, of course, help here!
- Make sure that you coming home is a positive experience – a big, warm welcome, and lots of fuss
- There might be times where your dog has chewed something, or left a little present on the kitchen floor. We know that this is often the last thing that you want to deal with after a busy day at work, but it is important that you don’t punish your dog for these behaviours – it’s unlikely that they will associate any telling offs with that behaviour, and may instead start to associate this punishment with your returning home
When to seek help
If you’re unable to ‘treat’ your dog’s separation anxiety behavior using the tips above, then you should speak to your vet. They may refer you to an animal behaviorist, and they will work with you to uncover the underlying cause of the behaviour and develop a tailored treatment plan for your dog.