To implement dog separation anxiety solutions, it’s imperative that you understand the causes and symptoms first. It’s not uncommon for pet owners to witness their dogs or puppies exhibit destructive or unruly behavior when left alone, i.e. urinating, defecating, howling, barking, chewing furniture and trying to get out of the house. While they are often mistaken for a need in manner retraining, these might actually be symptoms of stress related to being left alone by their guardians in the house. Before getting to the solutions however, knowing the causes and symptoms are necessary.
Dog and puppy anxiety is triggered when they get upset due to separation from their parents (you), guardians or other people they are close to. Symptoms like excessive drooling and anxiety are worrying enough but even more so when he tries to escape, because it can lead to destruction of windows, doors and other furniture, and your pet could hurt himself too.
Pinpointing the exact reasons why dogs go through anxiety is not easy, but there are many possible reasons including the following:
- Change of family or guardian: being handed over to a new family or guardian can be stressful for him and trigger off the separation anxiety.
- Schedule change: a sudden change in the amount of time that he’s left alone can set off the anxiety attack. For instance if you’ve got a home based job but you suddenly find yourself in another line of work that requires you to be out of the house for 6 to 8 hours, your pet could suffer separation attacks and exhibit the aforementioned symptoms.
- Another possible cause is moving to a new home or changes in the household (i.e. a family member leaves or dies).
When you’re looking for signs of separation anxiety don’t forget to rule out other possible causes like illnesses or medications that your pet is taking. For instance, incontinence can cause your dog to soil even if he’s not stressed. If your dog is taking any medication and starts showing signs of stress, take him to the vet first and rule out the possibility that the symptoms are being caused by the medication. Incomplete house training is another possibility so you need to rule this out too before concluding it’s separation anxiety.
Dogs, especially the domestic bred types, are used to human companionship and often don’t want to be left alone, but there are puppy separation anxiety solutions you can try.
What are the Symptoms?
The most common sign is he gets distressed or agitated when you’re about to leave, and they exhibit symptoms of depression or anxiousness before you depart or right after leaving.
Here’s a look in detail at some of the more common symptoms of separation anxiety in puppies as well as dogs.
- Defecating and Urinating: some dogs urinate or defecate when left alone, but bear in mind this should only be considered a sign of anxiety if it happens when you leave. If this occurs even when you’re present it’s probably not related to anxiety.
- Howling and Barking: dogs that are left alone might suddenly bark or howl within minutes, and the persistent barking will continue even if there doesn’t seem to be a reason for him to do so. Since this behavior often occurs when they’re left alone, it’s easy to trace this behavior to separation anxiety.
- Digging, Chewing and Destruction: as indicated earlier, some dogs exhibit destructive behavior and take it out on door frames, window sills and household objects and furniture. This doesn’t just result in destruction of property but also self-injury like damaged nails, scraped paws and broken teeth to name a few.
- Escape: one of the reasons why treating anxiety in dogs is necessary is he might try to dig and chew his way out of your house. As indicated above this can lead to serious injuries.
- Pacing Restlessly: some dogs trot or pace along a fixed path when their guardian leaves them alone in the house. Walking in straight lines is not uncommon but you will also find some dogs that go around in circles.
How to Treat Dog Mild Separation Anxiety
If you are dealing with separation anxiety, check first if it’s mild, moderate or severe. If the symptoms are mild you can probably take care of it by counter conditioning, whereby your pet’s aggressive or anxious behavior is replaced by something more relaxing and pleasant.
This treatment is accomplished by associating a feared event or situation with something that your pet likes. If your dog exhibits signs of anxiety when you leave, give him a puzzle stuffed with delicious food. Don’t give him the food straightaway: put the food in a puzzle toy so he’ll be occupied for a good several minutes while you’re gone. As soon as you return, remove the puzzle toy food so over time he’ll associate the delicious food when you are departing.
How to Treat Moderate and Severe Dog Separation Anxiety
Dog separation anxiety solutions for moderate and severe cases are more involved and depending on the condition, might take weeks before you notice signs of improvement. During the treatment you have to avoid instilling fear in him because it could backfire and render the process ineffective.
- Phase 1: Pre-departure Cues
Some dogs manifest signs like panting, drooling and whining as soon as you begin the routine associated with your departure like putting on your shoes, wearing a jacket or grabbing the car keys. One of the ways of dealing with dog separation anxiety is to show him that these “rituals” don’t always mean you’re leaving. You could put on your coat and take the car keys but instead of leaving immediately, sit down and watch TV.
If your dog has witnessed your departure rituals for many years, it’s going to take several weeks before he learns to disassociate them from the time you have to leave. Once your pet has grown accustomed to it you can proceed to phase 2.
- Phase 2: Since your dog is no longer stressed when you’re set to leave, you can start doing out of sight exercises. If you want to know how to stop separation anxiety in puppies and dogs, teach him to sit or stay down while you’re at the end of the door in another room.
Slowly increase the amount of time you spend behind the door. As the duration increases, train your dog to stay while you take your car keys, wear your coat and go through your regular pre-departure routines. As your dog gets used to these out of sight exercises, start doing it at the front door.
Your initial exit door out of sight exercises should last only a couple of seconds at first and then slowly increase this. When you can separate for at least 15 seconds and he doesn’t get upset, incorporate the counter-conditioning separation anxiety dog training mentioned earlier (leaving puzzle toy foods). When doing repeated out of sight exercises, wait a few minutes before commencing so your dog can get used to the situation and does not get too excited.
Keep in mind that it’s important you leave and return quietly and calmly as this will reduce the difference when you’re there and when you leave. As a pet owner you also need to understand that dogs react and behave differently so establishing a timeline is nearly impossible. What’s important when you’re learning how to train a dog with separation anxiety is to be patient.
Don’t start with extended out of sight exercises, and keep an eye out for signs of stress like pacing, trembling, too much excitement when greeting you and drooling. If any of these manifest, it’s a sign your pet is under stress and your exercises may have to be scaled back.
These out of sight exercises need to start with a few seconds and worked up to 40 or 45 minutes because it’s during the first 40 to 45 minutes of being alone that the symptoms of anxiety manifest. What this means is your sessions need to be increased by a few seconds each day only, but once your dog is comfortable being alone for 40 minutes, you can increase this by larger increments, starting with 5 minutes then increments of 15 minutes.
If you can leave him alone for 90 minutes and he doesn’t show signs of being upset, increase this to four hours and if he’s still okay, you can bump this up to the full 8 hours you need to work. When learning how to fix separation anxiety, try to do multiple daily sessions during the weekend and twice daily during the work week.
As you can see there are many possible solutions to dog and puppy separation issues, but they take time and not always easy to implement.