Dog Separation Anxiety: Causes, Prevention, And How To Stop
When raising a puppy, you and he may experience a string of behavioural issues. One of them is separation anxiety (SA). Knowing and understanding SA will prevent you from preparing the required preventative measures to ward off the condition and responding to it as soon as any signs emerge. Although older dogs can get SA, the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic primarily affects young dogs. So, instead of brushing puppy separation anxiety off as something you’ll worry about later, stop it where it starts.
What is dog separation anxiety?
Whether an older dog or a puppy, your dog will likely experience severe anxiety when you leave him alone and return. Even though the symptoms can differ, he will act as though being at home alone is terrible. Patricia McConnell, PhD, a biologist and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, is an expert on SA. In her book I’ll Be Home Soon, she asserts that SA can be compared to a panic attack, even though we cannot confidently know what is going through a dog’s thoughts.
The good news is that you’re probably already laying the foundation for a pleasant, well-behaved dog because you’re a responsible puppy parent. A few considerations include puppy training, socialization, crate training, and teaching your puppy to enjoy solitude. As a result, many of the recommendations offered here are things you already do or have done. However, SA does present some unique challenges.
What makes separation anxiety different from normal canine behaviour?
Separation anxiety manifests more brutally than the occasional sneeze as you leave the house or the ripped sock you discover when you return home. Unlike a bit of mischief when your dog is left alone, separation anxiety is not the same as boredom and is brought on by actual tension.
Before identifying torn pillows or potty accidents as SA, ensure it’s not the product of insufficient training. Can your dog understand manners, even when you’re not looking? Is he fully trained to use the toilet? One of the best ways to see what occurs while you’re not home is to record your dog’s behaviour.
What signs of separation anxiety do dogs exhibit?
Because stress can express itself in various ways, no specific SA sign can be used to diagnose dogs. Instead, there are several symptoms. Suppose one or two of these don’t happen regularly. It might not be a sign of puppy separation anxiety, even if they do. However, your puppy may have SA if he consistently displays several symptoms. Your dog might do any of the following:
- Whining, pacing, or shaking as you prepare to leave or while out of anxiety.
- Long-lasting barking or howling
- Destructive actions like chewing or digging, incredibly close to doors or windows,
- Inadvertently urinating or pooping on oneself while at home.
- Excessive salivation, panting or drooling.
- Protracted, desperate attempts to escape captivity can cause irreparable harm.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science revealed that a number of the symptoms above are among the most common reasons dog owners give up their dogs. This is especially sad because a few simple but essential things could be done to fix the problem.
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Puppies and Dogs?
It’s unclear why specific puppies are more prone to separation anxiety than others. According to McConnell, several factors, including never being left alone before and painful separation, as is the case with some dogs who have been abandoned at shelters, could be at fault. Even one traumatic event, like a house invasion, might cause SA while the owner is abroad. She concludes by arguing that personality can influence results, with clingy dogs possibly being more susceptible than autonomous ones.
Changes in habits, relocating to a new house, or the unexpected departure of a family member, such as a divorce, a death in the family, or a child going off to college, are other triggers to keep an eye out for. Recent studies have even revealed that a person’s everyday inactivity may play a role. Concentrating on prevention and starting treatment at the first sign of SA is crucial because there are so many potential causes.
How Can I Support My Dog Through Separation Anxiety?
It’s upsetting to go home to such a mess, and watching your puppy in such discomfort is awful. This is far more terrible for your dog. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to deal with SA. According to the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, the goal of treatment is to “resolve the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone.” Your puppy may already be utilizing these therapies regularly, identical to preventative measures. However, consider each option while approaching SA. Consider the following types of therapy:
1. Crate conditioning
It is important to note that a crate is your dog’s friend and ally. It’s an essential tool for training and the solution to many puppy issues. It is neither cruel nor unhealthy when used appropriately. Instead, it can provide your dog with a safe, tranquil place to relax. It’s intended to teach him to associate chew toys and puzzle toys that release food with his crate to make him enjoy spending time there. Some dogs feel more secure and comfortable in their crates when left alone. But other dogs might freak out. Watch your puppy’s behaviour to determine whether the symptoms of anxiety go away soon or if they worsen. Remember that crating your dog all day, every day is not the answer to his separation anxiety. To keep him and your house safe, you should teach him to enjoy being alone.
2. Counterconditioning and desensitization
Growing a mentally and physically healthy puppy requires teaching your new puppy to feel at peace in the environment and to make positive associations with new experiences. That holds for time spent away from you as well. Teach your puppy the benefits of solitude. Start by only leaving him for short periods, then gradually expand it. If your puppy has already learned to get apprehensive when you bring him home, think about stopping this behaviour by rewarding him with a high-value treat that he genuinely likes and that you only use to reinforce essential lessons and behaviours. He might even begin to anticipate your departure if you give him a special treat before you leave. You can also decrease the distress your departure routine causes your puppy by desensitizing them to the signs you’re about to make. Get your keys, put on your coat, and make dinner instead of going to the car. Give your puppy a special treat before you grab your coat or keys. He’ll eventually stop panicking and begin expecting the telltale signs that you’re getting ready to leave.
Exercise can help treat and prevent SA even if no known treatment exists. Make sure your puppy engages in plenty of age-appropriate physical activity to start. This is particularly true for large, active dogs with a lot of energy to burn. Your dog is more likely to relax after a fun play session and a brisk walk with you. Don’t underestimate your puppy’s cognitive ability, either. Many great possibilities include brain games, puzzle toys, and training activities. A mental workout can be just as challenging and rewarding as a physical one.
4. Attachment Disorder: Maintaining Composure
Don’t encourage excessive clutching. Encourage independence instead by teaching your puppy to remain in a different room by themselves when you are at home. The practice of teaching a solid stay is one such method for preventing undue attachment. You can start to leave the room once your puppy can stay there for several minutes. Start with brief intervals. Eventually, you should be able to leave him alone for five to ten minutes. It’s also essential to keep your cool when entering or leaving your house. Avoid getting too sentimental when you first meet your dog. Maintain a low-key atmosphere. If you grow nervous about your arrivals and departures, your dog will also worry about them. Don’t chastise your dog if you return to mishaps or damage when you get home. You’ll give him anxiety and make it worse.
5. Natural remedies and supplements:
Sometimes, only training and counterconditioning are insufficient. Some veterinary professionals suggest taking medications like amitriptyline, which is used to treat depression, or alprazolam, which is used for anxiety and panic disorders. These require a prescription and are safe for most pets, but you should speak with your vet and take extra care when administering medication to a young dog. Additional alternatives include dietary supplements and homeopathic treatment. Your dog may recover from SA with the help of natural treatments like CBD or valerian, or they may, at the very least, make the training process more straightforward. Always consult your vet before giving your dog any over-the-counter medications, particularly if he is receiving prescription medication. Other natural remedies include compression garments like the Thundershirt, dog-pleasing pheromone collars, or diffusers.
Is it ever possible to entirely avoid separation anxiety?
Despite your best efforts, puppies and dogs frequently experience separation anxiety. Additionally, once SA has spread, it can be challenging to treat. Consider collaborating with a veterinary behaviourist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist to make the process smoother. McConnell promises that, despite how awful the condition may be, there is a good treatment that can be treated successfully. With time and a good attitude, you might be able to help your dog feel less anxious when you leave.