Dogs are social animals and it’s one of the main reasons they have become our best friends. Dogs just like humans require company and when dogs are left alone for long periods of time they will suffer.
Unfortunately, there is the possibility that your dog may become over-dependent on you or other members of the household. It’s important to strike a balance as being over-reliant on company can lead to problems when you need to leave the home. Your dog cannot cope or handle the idea that his owner is now absent. This is known as “separation anxiety”
Dogs suffering from “separation anxiety” can sometimes literally freak out when left alone. They can become distressed and full of anxiety and this distress can manifest in non-stop barking, howling, whining, or whimpering. Destructive behavior often accompanies this distress with aggressive chewing and sometimes attempted escapes. Often dogs with this condition will simply do anything to escape and find their owners. Unfortunately, these escape attempts can often lead to injury and dogs will leave a trail of destruction in their path.
As a dog owner, it’s vital to equip yourself with the knowledge to deal with this problem and consequently break this separation anxiety. For some dogs, being separated from their owners is like their world has come crashing down and they cannot cope with the reality of the situation being “alone forever”.
The Main Underlying Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Learning how to break separation anxiety in dogs will firstly involve understanding the underlying causes and then have an action plan in place to deal with the issue.
1. Breed of Dog
Certain breeds of dog are more prone to separation anxiety and some of these breeds include German Shepherds, Airedale Terriers, Weimaraners, Springer Spaniels,
Now just because you may have one of these breeds it doesn’t automatically mean that your dog will have this type of anxiety. It just means that it is more prone to develop the condition and many never do.
2. Shelter Dogs
Sadly dogs that find themselves in shelters are more prone to separation anxiety. Many have faced trauma in their lives and consequently, they may be wary of being surrendered again.
Think of this from the dog’s perspective. Bottom line is that they have been surrendered to the shelter and unfortunately their owner for whatever reason can no longer look after them. Sadly the dog does not understand the complexities of the situation and will often feel abandoned and miss their home. There can be some heart-rendering reasons for the necessity of placing the dog in adoption, however, from the dog’s point of view this new owner could pull the same trick as their previous owner and send them to the shelter again.
3. Puppies Separated Too Early
When puppies are taken away from their mother too early it can sometimes lead to future issues like separation anxiety.
The earliest a puppy should be weaned and separated from its mother is a minimum of 8 weeks of age. Anything prior to this time will cause issues.
Puppies that are taken too early and placed in pet stores will often suffer psychological damage and stress. The combination of a lack of exercise and a shortage of affection for the young puppy in a pet store will be detrimental to their mental health and well-being.
Neglect is the number one cause of separation anxiety. As we mentioned earlier, dogs are social animals and they crave company, affection, and attention. If you are away from your dog more times than being with him then unfortunately it will affect your dog and lead to separation anxiety.
The Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Dogs will most definitely pick up on the signs that you are about to leave the home. Dogs will watch you like a hawk as you prepare to depart. As you look for your shoes, keys, and coat you may be followed from the room. Your dog understands what’s going to happen and the anxiety and stress are building for him.
He may begin to whimper and whine and in some cases start barking almost pleading with you to stay. He may even tremble and shake with anxiety. There can even be occasions where aggression is shown. Your dog wants you to stay so much that he will revert to any tactic to convince you to remain with him.
When you leave the house the anxiety within your dog builds and worsens rapidly. It usually reaches its peak within half an hour or so. During this time your dog may bark non-stop, scratch aggressively at doors and windows looking for an escape route to find you. They can become destructive in nature and anything that gets in the way will be chewed aggressively and destroyed. They are taking their anger and frustration out on objects in their way of finding you.
Dogs that are suffering badly from this condition will often defecate and urinate and on some occasions, dogs can even self-mutilate with excessive licking and biting of their own fur. It can also result in obsessive-compulsive behavior in dogs such as tail chasing and spinning
On returning home to a dog that suffering from separation issues the greeting you get can be overwhelming. Your dog will be so happy to see you. He will bark and jump around ecstatically and be overcome with joy. It’s the highlight of his day now that you have returned. There can be a big temptation to engage enthusiastically with your dog and he becomes even more worked up in a frenzy. If you engage in this type of behavior with your dog please stop as this exaggerated greeting is a sign of a psychological disorder.
You are just validating that your return is the “high point” of the day for your dog and it doesn’t get any better than this now that you are home. However, when you need to leave again this now-exaggerated happiness at your presence is now under threat and consequently, your dog gets even more anxious and unhappy when you leave again.
9 Ways To Break Separation Anxiety in Dogs
The more physical activity and exercise that your dog engages in the better. Your goal is to tire out your dog as much as possible before leaving him alone. Physical activity is good for everybody’s mental health including your dogs. There have been numerous studies that confirm that physical exercise helps reduce anxiety and depression.
So before setting off for work in the morning make sure that at least a 20-minute walk is part of the morning routine. This really would be the minimum time so the longer the better. It may mean getting up a bit earlier but in the long run, it would be worth it. Exercising will also give your dog a chance to go to the toilet. There would be nothing worse than trying to hold it until you return. And if there is an accident while you were out don’t make a big deal just immediately bring your dog outside as soon as you return home.
Leaving a dog alone for 8/9 hours is really too long and not fair on your dog. If possible try and organize for a dog walker to walk your dog around lunchtime so that your dog does not feel completely abandoned during the day and it will help break up the time.
2. Distraction with Chew Options
Most dogs love to chew things. It’s part of their nature and they really enjoy it. So before leaving your dog ensure there are plenty of chewing options available.
There are numerous chewing options available for distraction and ones that come to mind are bully sticks and Kong stuffing toy.
Bully sticks offer a great chewing option for dogs and they can last a long time. Chewing helps distract a dog from loneliness and boredom and it can also act as a stress relief. The Kong stuffing toy is a heavy-duty dog toy that allows you to insert treats. It is durable and will keep your dog entertained for hours.
3. Soothing Sounds
As dogs are social creatures they will get accustomed to hearing human voices and music. It has been known that playing classical music helps soothe both humans and dogs. Alternatively, leave a radio station preferably a chatshow with voices. It helps counter that lonely feeling that nobody is around. There is now also the option of DogTV.
4. Give A View of Outside World
Dogs just like some humans can be very nosey and want to know what’s happening in the outside world. If your dog has no view of what is happening outside then it can become frustrating for him. Try and ensure that your dog can at least look out the window or have access to a part of the dwelling when he can watch the outside world.
My dog used to stand on the chair and look out the window. He thought he owned the neighborhood and would monitor all activities coming and going. It was his way of relieving boredom and passing the day productively protecting the neighborhood.
5. Acclimatize Your Dog To You Leaving
Get your dog used to you leaving the home so that it does not become a big deal anymore. Now, this can take quite a bit of practice and plenty of patience is required. As we mentioned earlier dogs will pick up on the signals that you are about to leave from picking up keys to putting on your coat or jacket etc
Now what you need to do is to practice these things but then go nowhere. Move the keys and jangle them. Go to the front door and then come back. It will take plenty of practice. Then when you feel ready go out the front door and then come back in straight away and sit down. If there is no reaction from your dog you will need to provide plenty of praise to your dog with some tasty treats
It’s not easy to ignore a hyper dog greeting but if your dog suffers from anxiety from being separated you will need to bite the bullet and hold firm. DOn’t make a big deal that you have returned home. Treat it as part of the routine. Otherwise making a big fuss when you arrive home will only help reinforce the anxiety that you were missing for so long.
7. Leave Old Sweater in Dog Quarters
Leaving an old sweater or piece of your clothing with your dog will help soothe your dog to a certain degree. Knowing that your smell is around can help calm some dogs.
8. Do Not Allow Your Dog To Become Your Shadow
It can look very cute that your dog or puppy follows you everywhere. It’s almost as if the puppy has become your shadow. However, cuteness aside this type of shadowing can lead to problems when it’s time to leave your dog behind.
It may sound harsh but you need to stop this behavior as the puppy will become too dependent on you and your movements. Try closing the door between you and your dog so that there is not always contact between you. Eventually, your dog will get used to this and start exploring things on his own without following you everywhere.
Dealing with separation anxiety in dogs means that you will require plenty of patience and you will need to practice leaving your dog alone by himself little and as often as possible. Start off by just going out the door and then gradually build to a few minutes at a time. Gradually over time increase the length. A general guideline is that dogs should not be left alone for more than 4 hours and puppies under 5 months should not be left alone for more than 2 hours.
If you are looking for a more detailed and in-depth approach to dealing with your dog’s separation anxiety you should check out the Secrets to Dog Training. It helps dog owners deal constructively with canine behavioral problems. It covers comprehensively covers all the common canine behavioral problems and there is also a great section on obedience commands and tricks too.