Separation Anxiety

SEPARATION_ANXIETY_Featured

Photo by Sue Collura Studio | www.suecollura.com

Separation anxiety is one of the most difficult behavior problems to deal with in dogs because successful modification relies on people being present at all times during what can be a long training process. It is a hugely important problem to solve, both for dog and owner, as separation anxiety is one of the main reasons why dogs are relinquished to shelters every year.

Dogs and humans have a mutual need to form social attachments, and while dogs may suffer from a little separation distress at times, most of us learn to cope with a person’s absence. In contrast, there are some dogs that become anxious when left alone and exhibit some or all of the classic signs of that anxiety including:

  • excessive vocalization (barking)
  • pacing and restlessness
  • whining and crying
  • panting
  • drooling
  • vomiting
  • toileting
  • chewing
  • eating through walls
  • destroying points of entry
  • jumping through open and/or closed windows

Separation anxiety has many causes, but it is believed that genetics and/or an early history of abandonment can contribute to what can quickly develop into a deeply rooted problem which is highly resistant to change.

Before a treatment plan can be designed, it is important to make sure your dog is suffering from anxiety rather than just being a bored dog trying to entertain herself during your absence. Setting up a video camera and recording your dog’s actions while she is alone will give a more accurate picture as to the cause of the behavior.

Are You Sure It's Separation Anxiety? Many people return home after a day at work to a household of destruction and mayhem, and their first assumption is that their dog suffers from acute separation anxiety. Sometimes this can be the case, but in many cases, the dog has destroyed the house as a cure for another very common problem in the canine world: acute boredom.  There are specific signs that tell an experienced positive dog trainer whether the dog is truly suffering from separation anxiety or is simply trying to cope with feeling really bored and unstimulated. The end result can look similar, but thankfully many cases of supposed separation anxiety are actually easy-to-rectify cases of a bored dog finding ways to fill his day.
Why Does My Anxious Dog Destroy My House?
Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety can display anything from minor to major destruction when left alone. Such destruction is normally focused on points of entry such as doors and windows, or places and objects that are more intimately associated with an owner such as shoes, the bed or the sofa.

Anxious dogs often chew things because chewing releases pleasurable endorphins into the body, promoting a feeling of calm – just as some humans release tension by biting their nails.

Of course it can be distressing to come back to a home that has been damaged by your dog, but try to avoid responding using physical or emotional punishment – d these are ineffective and only serve to increase your dog’s anxiety.


How Do I Start Modifying My Dog’s Separation Anxiety?

  • First and foremost, anxious dogs require appropriate exercise, a potent stress reliever, and an hour of exercise a day can help lessen a dog’s anxiety, being particularly effective if done just before your departure.
  • Boredom and lack of exercise contributes to anxiety. If your dog has been physically exercised and mentally stimulated before you leave, this might increase his ability to cope while you are away.
  • Daily exercise can be complimented with a compliance teaching program that allows your dog to learn new basic cues centered on impulse control and problem solving. This helps activate the learning part of your dog’s brain which in turn deactivates the emotional center of the brain responsible for the anxiety.
  • It is much easier for your dog to cope with your departure if you make little fuss of her when leaving. The same is true when you return.180x250_icalm_separation_anxiety
  • Dogs are also sensitive to changes in their environment and the transition from the energy when you are present to silence in the home when you leave is profound. Leaving lights on and tools like DogTV or playing specially-designed calming music for dogs during your absence will help make the transition easier.
  • Desensitization to departure triggers is important, as dogs can become anxious as soon as they see you picking up keys and putting on your coat.
  • Masking these triggers by hiding the keys in a different place, using a different bag or not wearing your coat can help, but you might find your dog becomes wise to what you are doing as departure energy is difficult to hide.
  • Putting on a coat and exiting followed immediately by a return, allows your dog to see the trigger in a different light – the coat doesn’t always mean you are going to leave for a long period of time.
  • Constant repetition over a number of days can help desensitize your dog until departures no longer trigger a response.
  • Time spent away can be gradually increased until your dog is confident that you will always return.


Should I Leave My Dog With Appropriate Activity Toys?

  • Your dog might be too anxious to eat or play with a toy when you are absent, so it is important to introduce her favorite toys and/or chews while you are present, building up a positive emotion around that particular toy.
  • Once that positive feeling around toys has been built you can give them a few minutes before you depart which will allow her to focus on the toy rather than you leaving.
  • Interactive toys such as rubber toys stuffed with treats and treat balls can help re-focus the mind, causing your dog to release anxious energy on an appropriate item rather than the sofa.

Treatment for separation anxiety can be highly effective if implemented diligently and a once destructive and anxious dog can become a much more relaxed and contented animal. In most cases, true separation anxiety cases require the guidance of a qualified positive dog trainer to help the behavior modification process.

Find a great positive dog trainer here.


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  • Vince Fleming

    My foster is heartworm+, so he needs to be kept calm during the treatment (2 months!). He's starting to show some separation anxiety - I believe it's because I spend a lot of time with him because I work from home most of the time. I really don't want to make the SA worse, so do you have any suggestions since I can't exercise him?

  • Susan Wilkinson

    I'm fostering two rescue westies Mother and daughter. The younger one is not settling at night. We have a calm night time routine but as soon as I close the kitchen door she starts to cry and howl and scratch at the kitchen door. We've tried leaving her but let her out after 40 mins as she was getting very distressed. I sat with them and read a book and she settled and went to sleep. I am trying everything I know - leaving the radio on, leaving a night light on Does anyone have any suggestions. There are very few behaviour problems the rest of the time.

  • Tie Dye’s Momma

    Can you distract with puzzle toys and special treats, like a stuffed marrow bone or Kong when he starts to get antsy? Then while he's interested in the toy/food, do a "peek a boo" type exercise to gradually accustom him to the leaving ritual that leads to a return. (Walk out of the room for 3 seconds, come back and praise if he hasn't been upset by your leaving. Up to 5 seconds, then 8, then 10. etc.)

  • Tie Dye’s Momma

    Would a mid-day dog walker be an option, or a neighbor to look in on her? Some working types can have quite high energy and be hard to tire out for long periods.

  • Stephanie Rea

    I have a rescue I adopted almost 2 years
    ago and when I got him he was a little sh*t!!! I had a nice book collection
    that has reduced, excessively, since having him. Anyway, I was able to get him
    to stop chewing on shoes, books magazines, and everything in between by doing a
    lot of what is recommended here. However, he FLIPS OUT when I leave or my
    fiancé leaves. He tries to eat me is how I would best describe it. He's
    actually come up and bit me once on the arm because he tried to grab me and I
    kept going. He barks SO LOUD and he whines. I have tried calming him, we walk
    him before we go to work, he has a ton of toys to play with and chew on and he
    also has music playing. How I get out the door? I throw a toy (usually a kong)
    and run out the door. It’s ridiculous. Or, we spray him with water to get him
    away from the door, but he gets more upset. There’s that and the fact that he
    literally chews on the door handle and claws on the door to try and get out. I
    don’t know what else to do to get him to stop? We tried calming treats, that didn’t
    work. I got him a Thundershirt, he ate it. Got him another one, he manages to
    take it off. Is there ANYTHING else you can suggest? Thank you!

  • mary

    my neighbors dog honks and howls and noises i cannot describe when he sees him or when he sees other dogs. It is terrifying and terribly annoying. She and her husband have no control. The dog does not listen as he has never been trained. She says he is nervous, that she had to sedate him to fly him from Fl to NV. Not put him to sleep, just give him pills to calm him.
    Any ideas what this is all about and how to change this behavior.

  • Ella

    G et a kennel for her and put it in your bedroom at night and put her in it. That might be all it takes. Worked for us . We had two behaviour trainers and both said the same thing, though the biggest dog just had a bed he went to and stayed on. After three days that big guy's whole personality changed as he was finally included with his family and he could relax. It was amazing. Separating a dog is about the worst form of punishment for a sociable dog. Both of these dogs were rescues

  • Ellie

    My cocker spaniel has never exhibited seperation anxiety. However I got a dog walker twice a week, and I walk my pooch twice a day, but since having the dog walker my dog has started destroying the carpet on the stairs.... It worries me. I thought it would help her. Any ideas?

  • Lorraine Joy

    Try just teaching him some tricks.Like lay down and sit,high five or paw.Mental stimulation can be just as good as physical.

  • bwcky

    Thank you for this link my dog suffers from anxiety and I am really trying with her, I often put my coat on and go down my path then come bk to her and reward get for her good behaviour and ignore the bad. I am also regally getting her lye on her bed while I walk out the room I started with a few minutes and slowly increase it. But unfortunately she still cant be left roaming around the house as she destroys everything. I'm hoping get my shift changed so I can start taking her training lessons. I love my dog and I'm refusing to give up on her.

  • hloevering

    My girl we were working with but our landlord basically said that we either had to kennel her which she breaks out of both metal and plastic or bring her with which doesn't help get her over her separation anxiety but as she is getting older I've noticed that she has been laying down and letting me go check mail by myself ect....and I can talk to people outside as well etc.....

  • Mia

    My rescue basset doesn't have this problem when I go out but it is at night times. She will bark excessively for most of the night. It can result in all family members not getting much sleep. She sleeps in a darkened crate with my other basset. I have an adaptil plug in and I have just bought an adaptil collar. Any other ideas more than welcome

  • Amanda Page

    I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much. BUT he barks A LOT. . So, leaving home is always a challenge for us.
    My husband and I were thinking about taking him to 'doggy school', but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest 'doggy school' is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!!

  • Kate Anstee

    My 7 year old Lakeland Terrier has started howling at night, scrapping on the kitchen door (where she sleeps with our Pointer) and sometimes toileting. Although she was difficult when we first had her as a 7 month old she has been fine ever since until now. Why would separation anxiety suddenly kick in. She is fine in the day. Any suggestions and/or help would be great.

  • Andrea Penfold

    I have a similar problem with my crossbreed who woofs and whines at the bedroom door at bedtime for quite some time. We are trying to ignore him which is difficult and the problem doesn't seem to be going away. He has a walk every night before bedtime. I was wondering whether to get adaptil plug. It's a shame no-one else has been able to respond to this thread.

  • Marti bassett

    My 15 1/2 yr.old American Eskimo has suddenly taken on an aversion to being hooked up to a leash to go for a walk which we have done 3 x a day for the last 15 years. He growls and will try to bite me, his mom (whom he has followed around every minute of every day for the last 15yrs.--will now not allow her to attach a leash to his collar????? Someone Pls. help!!!???

  • Marti bassett

    I must add, he stepped in a hole 1.5 yrs. ago and is somewhat lame with the lft. front leg, But when it came to walks he just loved it so he walked for 1/2 hr. or so. He was never hesitant with walking even after getting hurt. This was the only thing he truly looked forward to!! I can see it in his eyes that he wants to go, but the leash comes out, and he growls.! Marti

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