6 Questions And Answers On How To deal With Canine Separation Anxiety

'Lonely Dog' image by Dominika Roseclay

Is your dog stressed out when you’re gone?

Separation anxiety is a common challenge faced by many dog owners, and understanding its intricacies is vital for fostering a happy and well-adjusted canine companion. In this comprehensive blog post, we delve into frequently asked questions and concerns surrounding canine separation anxiety. Whether you’re a new pet parent grappling with the signs of distress in your furry friend or an experienced owner seeking effective strategies, we’ve gathered insights to address your queries. From recognising the typical symptoms to exploring proven training methods, join us on a journey to unravel the complexities of separation anxiety in dogs and discover practical solutions for a harmonious relationship with your four-legged family member.

  1. What are the typical signs and symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs, and how can I recognise them in my pet?
  • Typical signs and symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs encompass a range of behaviours that manifest when the dog is left alone. This includes excessive barking or howling, as well as engaging in destructive activities such as chewing furniture or doors in an attempt to alleviate anxiety. Restlessness, pacing, and an inability to settle down when alone are common indicators, as is house soiling, where dogs may urinate or defecate indoors due to stress. Dogs with separation anxiety might attempt to escape, jeopardising their well-being by scratching at doors or windows. Physical signs like excessive drooling or panting are also observed, reflecting the dog’s heightened state of anxiety. Additionally, some dogs may exhibit a loss of appetite when left alone, and others display excessive greeting behaviours upon the owner’s return, showcasing their emotional distress during the separation period. Recognising these signs is crucial for identifying and addressing separation anxiety in dogs effectively.

2. Are there specific breeds or age groups more prone to developing separation anxiety, or can it affect any dog?

  • Separation anxiety can affect dogs of any breed or age group, and there is no specific breed or age predisposition. However, individual temperament and life experiences play a significant role in a dog’s susceptibility to separation anxiety. While some breeds may be more prone to anxiety-related behaviours, such as the more social and dependent breeds, any dog, regardless of breed or age, can develop separation anxiety under certain circumstances. Factors such as changes in routine, abrupt life changes, or a history of abandonment or rehoming can contribute to the development of separation anxiety in dogs. It’s important for dog owners to be attentive to their pets’ behaviours and seek professional advice if signs of separation anxiety emerge, irrespective of the dog’s breed or age.
'Separation anxiety can happen to any dog', image by Amina Filkins
‘Separation anxiety can happen to any dog’, image by Amina Filkins

3. What role does a dog’s past experiences or history play in the development of separation anxiety, and how can understanding this help in the treatment process?

  • A dog’s past experiences and history can significantly influence the development of separation anxiety. Dogs that have experienced trauma, abandonment, or frequent changes in ownership may be more prone to developing separation anxiety. Understanding a dog’s past can provide valuable insights into the root causes of their anxiety and help tailor an effective treatment plan. For example, a dog with a history of being re-homed multiple times may have attachment issues, while a dog with a traumatic experience during a period of separation may associate that time with fear and distress. By identifying these triggers, owners and professionals can implement targeted interventions, such as gradual desensitisation or positive reinforcement training, to reshape the dog’s associations with being alone. Patience, consistency, and a compassionate approach are key elements in addressing separation anxiety based on a dog’s past experiences, helping them build trust and confidence gradually.

4. Is there a recommended duration for leaving a dog alone, and does the length of time alone contribute to separation anxiety?

  • The recommended duration for leaving a dog alone can vary based on factors such as the dog’s age, breed, and individual needs. In general, adult dogs can tolerate being alone for longer periods than puppies or certain high-energy breeds. However, there is no strict universal rule, as each dog is unique.
  • While the length of time alone itself may not directly cause separation anxiety, leaving a dog alone for excessively long periods consistently can contribute to feelings of loneliness and stress, potentially exacerbating existing separation anxiety issues. Dogs are social animals and thrive on human interaction, so it’s essential to balance time spent alone with socialisation, mental stimulation, and exercise.
  • To prevent or address separation anxiety, it’s advisable to gradually accustom your dog to being alone through positive reinforcement and short periods of separation. Provide engaging toys, create a comfortable environment, and establish a routine to help ease the transition. If you have concerns about leaving your dog alone for extended periods, consider enlisting the help of a friend, family member, pet sitter, or dog walker to provide companionship and care during your absence.
"Acclimatise your dog to separation" image by Julia Volk
“Acclimatise your dog to separation” image by Julia Volk

5. Are there specific training methods or exercises you would recommend to help my dog become more comfortable with being alone?

Certainly, several training methods and exercises can help your dog become more comfortable with being alone and reduce separation anxiety. Here are some recommendations:

  • Gradual Desensitisation:
    • Gradually expose your dog to being alone by starting with short durations and then gradually increasing the time. This helps them build confidence and reduces anxiety.
  • Practise Short Departures:
    • Practice leaving and returning home multiple times throughout the day in short increments, so your dog learns that departures are not permanent and are followed by your return.
  • Create a Safe and Comfortable Space:
    • Designate a specific area where your dog feels safe and comfortable. This can be a crate or a designated room with familiar toys and bedding.
  • Use Interactive Toys:
    • Provide toys that offer mental stimulation and engage your dog’s attention. Puzzle feeders or toys with treats inside can keep them occupied in your absence.
  • Establish a Routine:
    • Dogs thrive on routines, so establish a consistent daily schedule for feeding, walks, and playtime. Predictability can help reduce anxiety.
  • Ignore Attention-Seeking Behaviour Before Departure:
    • Ignore your dog for a few minutes before leaving and after returning. This helps prevent overexcitement associated with arrivals and departures.
  • Stay Calm During Departures and Arrivals:
    • Keep departures and arrivals low-key. Avoid making a big fuss, as this can contribute to anxiety.
  • Practise “Stay” and “Settle” Commands:
    • Teach your dog basic obedience commands like “stay” and “settle.” This can help them learn to remain calm and relaxed in your absence.
  • Use Calming Pheromones:
    • Consider using calming pheromone diffusers or collars, which can help create a more relaxed environment for your dog.
  • Consult a Professional Trainer or Behaviorist:
    • If your dog’s separation anxiety is severe, consider seeking the assistance of a professional dog trainer or behaviourist. They can provide personalised guidance and training techniques.

Remember that patience and consistency are key when implementing these strategies. It may take time for your dog to adjust, so be supportive and positive throughout the training process. If the issues persist or worsen, consult with a veterinarian or professional dog behaviourist for further assistance.

Puppy Love! Image by Ivan Babydov
Puppy Love! Image by Ivan Babydov

6. At what point should I consider seeking the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviourist, and what credentials or qualifications should I look for in such a professional?

  • You should consider seeking the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviourist if your dog’s separation anxiety is severe, persistent, or if your attempts at addressing the issue on your own have been unsuccessful. Signs that it’s time to consult a professional include destructive behaviour, excessive vocalisation, or signs of distress that continue despite your efforts to alleviate them.

See here for 5 Questions to Ask to Find the Right Dog Behaviourist, Behaviour Consultant, or Dog Trainer.

With the holiday season soon upon us we recommend getting your pooches sorted and comfortable for when you go away (if you’re not able to take them with on this one). We hope the above information is helpful, however, please remember to always consult your Vet and other canine professionals for accurate information on your particular situation.

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