The Signs & Causes of Separation Anxiety
According to research, about 20 to 40 percent of dogs that visit veterinary behavioral specialists suffer from what is known as separation anxiety. Every dog owner has most likely dealt with their pet’s separation anxiety at some point and knows it’s not a fun experience. There’s nothing nice about coming home after a long day at work to find your favorite pair of shoes chewed to a pulp or a couch torn to shreds.
If you have a trained dog and there’s no logical explanation for their behavior, there’s a good chance they’re suffering from separation anxiety. Distress behaviors like excessive drooling, nervousness, barking, chewing, and digging can all be signs that your dog is experiencing issues that go beyond normal pet behavior.
Separation anxiety is triggered when you, the owner, leave the house. Your dog – just like a child – gets attached to you, and your absence can make them feel confused and afraid. As a result, they can act out despite having been trained or previously acting with what would be considered “normal” behavior.
When this happens, it’s important to address the issue as soon as possible; otherwise, the behavior can escalate and can get more difficult to fix over time. If you’re experiencing these issues though don’t worry, there are some simple tricks you can do to help your pup get over their anxiety:
1. Leave on the radio or television
Leaving on some music, television, or radio at a low level during the day can be a good way to help your dog cope with being left alone. If you’re the type of person who is always playing something on the television when you’re at home, then you understand how some background noise can help you relax, even if you’re not paying attention to it.
You can also leave clothing or any other items that have your scent on it around the house in places that you know your dog can easily find them – the smell will comfort them, and they’ll feel less alone.
Also, make sure to remove any form of constraints like collars before leaving the house, so your pet doesn’t feel uncomfortable. It also ensures they won’t get caught or snagged on anything, which could potentially harm them.
2. Keep calm when coming and going
If you’re frazzled when leaving the house, your dog will sense that energy and be upset as a result. Even though it can be difficult, try to remain calm when getting ready to leave the house, and your pet will be more likely to stay calm as well.
You can also change your “going away signals” by doing things like putting on your coat ten minutes early – as if you were about to leave – but then staying around the house a bit longer.
The goal of doing this is not to trick your dog, but instead, you’re helping to break certain associations they have with you leaving. By doing things like this, you’re reducing associations that trigger their separation anxiety.
3. Create a safe space for your pup
Creating a unique space for your dog can be a great way to provide them with a comfortable environment when you’re away from the house. If you crate your dog, this might mean adding cozy blankets and pillows they can snuggle up in, and an added plus is if they have your scent on them.
And – if your dog sleeps with you in the bed – it’s worth considering training them to sleep in a crate or in their own bed, so they get used to being away from you for an extended period. Once your dog gets accustomed to spending time alone in their special space, it will become a comfortable spot for them when they’re left alone at the house.
4. Regular exercise is a must
If your pup isn’t getting enough exercise, it could be contributing to their separation anxiety. Especially if you live in a city or apartment, the inability to be able to run around outside can cause even the calmest dog to become agitated. Studies have shown that regular exercise has a wide potential of health benefits for dogs.
Try to work in ten minutes of exercise outdoors – whether that’s a walk around the block or a couple of laps around the yard – and it can significantly reduce your dog’s anxiety when you have to leave the house. If your dog is tired, they’ll have less energy to worry while you’re gone.
5. Don’t leave your dog alone for too long
Sometimes this one is difficult to avoid, but try not to leave your dog alone for extra-long periods. If possible, try to go home during your lunch break and spend some time with them. You’ll benefit too by eating at home by saving some money as well.
Obviously, if you have to stay gone for several days, you should either bring your pet with you or arrange for a friend or pet sitter to take care of them. If you’re having issues with a house-trained pet having accidents while you’re gone, it could be as simple a solution as making sure you go home during the day to take them out.
6. Give an anxiety vest a try
A lot of pet owners have found a solution to their pet’s separation anxiety using an anxiety vest or jacket. It won’t put an end to your dog’s distress immediately, but it is useful as a training tool to help comfort them while you’re gone. Start them out wearing one while you’re at the house so that, when you leave, it won’t be a new sensation.
Anxiety vests work best for dogs with mild to medium levels of anxiety but, for dogs with severe cases, it can still help if combined with other tactics. If your dog’s anxiety is situational – such as riding in the car or fear of loud noises like fireworks – an anxiety vest could be the perfect thing to help keep them calm.
7. Take them to doggy daycare
One great way to help ease your dog’s anxiety is to bring them to doggy daycare. Sometimes a little socialization is all your pet needs to get their mind off being separated from you. If you live in an area where outdoor space is limited, this can also be a good opportunity for them to get some much-needed exercise.
The advantage of taking your dog to daycare is that your pet can get regular physical and mental stimulation. This benefit creates a routine which can be an important element for helping your dog get over their separation anxiety. Even if you can’t afford to take your dog every day, daycare is still a good option for occasional de-stressing.
8. Hire a pet-sitter
Just like daycare can help your dog by providing a distraction from your absence, a pet sitter is a great option if your dog does in a home environment. This person is someone who comes every day or every few days to spend time with your dog. A pet sitter is also a good solution for extended periods when you’ll be gone, like vacations.
It’s important to make sure that your dog feels comfortable with whichever pet sitter you hire, so it’s a good idea to schedule a time you’ll be home when they can become introduced to each other. In this meet-and-greet, you can explain any important information to the sitter so they can have a better idea of how to approach your pet.
9. Consider getting them a companion
This option won’t work for all dogs though it may be helpful for some, depending on several factors like personality and living situation. For some animals, having a companion around the house can help them feel less agitated when you leave.
It’s important to note though that, while this may help alleviate the problem temporarily, it’s not going to fix the underlying reasons for your dog’s separation anxiety. As soon as the dogs are separated, the symptoms will return so it’s also important to incorporate other methods for dealing with your dog’s anxiety.
10. Try some CBD oil dog treats
If you’ve tried cannabidiol (CBD) oil for yourself, then you already know how much it can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. That’s why CBD oil products, like CBD dog treats, can be a great solution when it comes to helping with your pet’s separation anxiety.
In fact, CBD can be even more effective in dogs because they have more endocannabinoid (ECS) receptors in their brains than any other species – the ECS controls important bodily functions and helps keep your body balanced. Just make sure that whatever CBD product you give them is THC-free and only uses third party-tested, industrial-grade hemp. There are plenty of CBD products for dogs, including CBD tinctures, calming chews, treats, peanut butter, and more.
11. Practice leaving them alone while you’re at home
Another method for helping your pet learn to cope with separation anxiety is to practice leaving them alone when you’re at home. If they have very bad anxiety, only leave them for small intervals like five to ten minutes.
You can gradually increase the time your dog is left alone to 30 minutes and then always remember to reward them for good behavior. Slowly, they’ll learn to have positive associations with being alone, and this should significantly reduce their anxiety.
12. Do some confidence-building exercises
Confidence-building exercises help your dog feel like they have control over their environment, which, as a result, means they feel in control of their emotions. Just like people, dogs reacted negatively to situations where they feel uncomfortable.
When you leave the house, it creates a scary situation for your pup who has come to rely on you like a comforting and dependable presence in their life. Using toys, treats, and training with a goal for building confidence will empower your dog who will learn self-soothing tactics over time.