How To Prevent And Manage Separation Anxiety In Dogs

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  • Inappropriate urination, excessive vocalization, and home destruction are some of the most common signs of separation anxiety. Anxiously sensitive dogs may become concerned in certain circumstances, such as schedule adjustments. Because of this, some experts are worried that dog separation anxiety may worsen as owners resume working after the outbreak.
  • Creating a solid attachment with your dog and teaching them to be independent while you are together are two crucial hours in preventing and managing separation anxiety.
  • Set boundaries and rituals to make sure your dog only has minimal separation anxiety. Crate training is suggested as a preventative measure.
    -When receiving treatment, work up to leaving the house gradually. Train your dog, for instance, to remain in a different room while you are gone.

Living with a dog means always having someone to enjoy your company. Dogs are great because they are always happy to see you come through the door, whether you have been gone for a short while or a full day at least. However, when does your dog’s need to be close to you become a problem?

Separation anxiety has recently drawn greater attention, even though it has been studied extensively over the past few decades. Many experts and dog owners worry that once regular schedules start up again, the number of cases of separation anxiety may go up because the epidemic has changed our daily routines and work procedures.

Here, we’ll talk about separation anxiety, a complicated issue, and give some expert tips on how to treat, prevent, and deal with it.

What is separation anxiety?

A diagnosis of separation anxiety is diagnosed in 20 to 40% of dogs sent to behavioural specialists, and it is believed that 13 to 18% of dogs show signs of the condition. Separation anxiety is, to put it simply, the intense distress a dog has when their owner is separated or when they are left alone. Because it can cause disturbing behaviours, it can be challenging to treat, making the owner feel worried and guilty. It is a problem that severely harms both people and dogs.

According to Alexandra Bassett, chief trainer and behaviour specialist at Dog Savvy Los Angeles, the basis of canine separation anxiety is a dog or puppy’s need to “stay with the pack.” The condition is frequently triggered when a dog can’t see its owner. According to Bassett, the frustration and misery that follow “activates a feeling of being lost or confined,” even when the dog or puppy is entirely safe at home.

According to Toni Clarke, a certified separation anxiety trainer and owner of Well Done Charlie Dog Training in Washington, DC, dog separation anxiety symptoms are comparable to human panic disorders such as a fear of heights, flying, or snakes. The only thing your dog is afraid of is being left alone. Owners of pets must understand that the behaviour they are witnessing is unintended. The woman says your dog is only acting this way out of fear, not spite or any other reason.

There is still a lot of misinformation surrounding canine separation anxiety, even though it makes sense that dogs would be happiest when they are with their family because, like humans, they are social beings. It’s frequently misdiagnosed and used as a catch-all phrase for several other interpersonal or behavioural issues, according to many behaviour experts. The founder of the Canine Human Relationship Institute, Nelson Hodges, claims that 98% of the more than 4,000 dogs he has treated diagnosed with separation anxiety don’t have anything to do with it. It has instead become a catchphrase for challenging behaviour for people to understand. Other experts share this idea, and a recent study from the UK was based on it. Separation anxiety is a symptom of a more extensive set of issues rather than an illness in and of itself (read more about it here).

According to Dr Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviourist, author, and founder of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, there are two types of separation anxiety. One type is attachment disorder, which appears in dogs who get too attached to one person or people in general and display odd behaviour when those people aren’t around. Simple fear of being alone constitutes the second type. The authors say they sometimes feel claustrophobic and don’t want to be alone, no matter where they are.

Signs of separation anxiety

Many dogs have sad or resigned faces as you see them collect your keys and head out the door. A small study done in the UK in 2013 looked at cortisol levels, a hormone associated with the stress response, in dogs left alone and found that more than 80% of dogs displayed some negative behaviour when their owners left them. Most dogs can survive when left alone, but those who struggle with separation anxiety will show signs of real, genuine worry. Your dog’s symptoms and behaviours may vary in severity depending on their separation anxiety. Becca Wood, owner and trainer at Almost Heaven K9 Training in West Virginia, says that more severe behaviours include pawing or biting at the crate door (or causing damage to the crate), chewing at window treatments or blinds, urinating or defecating, excessive drooling, destroying the house or furniture, panting or whining, pacing, excessive licking, following their owners around, or barking.

Dr Dodman found that excessive vocalization (61% of dogs exhibit it), improper elimination (28% of subjects reported it), and home destruction (71% of dogs) were the most frequent behaviours linked to separation anxiety. This information was found in a well-known study he and Dr Gerard Flannagan co-authored.

A list of signs of separation anxiety is provided below.

  • Whimpering, panting, pacing, and aggression
  • Ongoing barking
  • Exhaustion and a lack of inability to relax
  • Drooling, peeing, and pooping
  • Chewing or other types of furniture or bedding destruction
  • Efforts to elude

Factors for separation anxiety:

Even though the precise cause of separation anxiety in dogs is uncertain, several factors have been anecdotally identified as probable triggers. According to Clarke, some potential reasons include a family member’s departure, other traumatic events, numerous rehoming episodes, or even a hereditary predisposition. Dr Dodman also lists a breakdown in close relationships and several attachment figures as potential reasons for separation anxiety. He claims that strong biological relationships between puppies and their mothers and siblings quickly shift into bonds with their new owners. But occasionally, he says, “that seamlessness of transition isn’t there.” It’s almost like I have PTSD because I never want to be in this condition again. It’s a ferocious dislike of being separated from an attachment figure or a desire to never be in a bit of space when nothing is happening.

Dr Dodman notes that circumstances can cause anxiety in dogs prone to it. We are aware that there are causes for separation anxiety, he says. For instance, an owner’s illness and prolonged stay at home can trigger. They return and go back to work. He says there’s also the prolonged period spent at home, which has been a defining feature of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Because of this, some experts are concerned that the signs of canine separation anxiety may worsen once people start working again after the current outbreak.

How can dogs with separation anxiety be treated?

Suppose you think your dog may be displaying separation anxiety. In that case, Clarke says to first talk with your veterinarian about your concerns. She says that the doctor will determine whether medical treatment is required and whether there are any other potential causes for the behaviours you’re observing. “Vets and dog trainers work all the time to help dogs with separation anxiety overcome their fears.”

Wood encourages owners to modify their interactions with their dogs if separation anxiety is found to break the cycle and create new behavioural patterns. The dog “won’t wake up and just decide to be calm and relax,” the woman says. This talent must be taught and practised every day.

Maintain a positive relationship with your dog in general.

Wood says that relationships between dogs and people can have more profound problems, such as separation anxiety. Sadly, some of these problems may be caused by pet owners without their knowledge.

Teaching your dog to be independent when you are together is the basis of a solid bond and a key element in dealing with separation anxiety.

If a dog is given unlimited, unfettered access to love, attention, cuddles, furniture time, belly rubs, and baby talk said Wood. It may depend on those types of rewards from its owner. When those items are suddenly removed because the human has left the room or house, especially for long periods, the dog lacks the skills essential to remain calm and believes it is safe to relax until its owner returns. As you interact with your dog daily, set boundaries and schedule times when you’ll be apart while you’re still at home.

Wood also warns owners to be cautious when rewarding behaviour they want to discontinue. “Dogs learn behaviours in simple patterns, so as owners, we have to be very conscious about what patterns we are teaching our dogs,” she adds. For instance, dog owners must be conscious of when and how they reward their dogs and employ positive reinforcement. If your pet, cuddle, or start talking in cutesy baby speak to your dog while they are pacing, whining, or barking (or if you dramatically lengthen your goodbyes before leaving the house), you are rewarding such behaviours. Furthermore, it would help if you never punished your dog for misbehaving or leaving the house out of fear because doing so will fuel their fear.

The process of separation should be gradual.

Start cautiously by engaging in one of the behaviours that indicate departure, such as putting on shoes, and then stay home if your dog is already displaying negative behaviour in response to your release. To try to break the unfavourable first association, repeat this multiple times.

The following phase is to train your dog to sit and stay while you gradually move farther away. It would help if you also educated them to lie down when you’re not looking and to get praise when you do.

Dogs and puppies with this condition must learn to calm themselves when separated from their caregivers. Bassett says that training usually starts with low-stress separation situations using gates, pens, and tethers while the owner stays home. As the dog or puppy shows it can handle it, the stress level slowly increases over time.

Exercise discrete detours.

Do not make a big deal out of leaving. The same applies when returning home (wait until after your dog settles down and is calm to give affection). Even though it could be challenging, it’s a good idea to hold back your joy when you see your dog prevent an overly happy reunion. You want to reaffirm the notion that people shouldn’t increase their energy and feelings in response to your arrivals and departures.

Crucial: Exercise

Dr Dodman also suggests “plenty of exercises,” which releases serotonin, a chemical that calms and keeps your mood stable.

Rodriguez also says giving your dog enough exercise and mental stimulation is essential. Hence, it’s happy and can relax when it needs to.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all-encompassing treatment for separation anxiety because dogs and humans are both diverse and distinctly individual. The degree of separation anxiety depends on the severity of the problem. Many experts agree that managing acute separation anxiety can be challenging. Hodges recommends consulting with Dr Dodman and many other experts in advising that you should consult with your veterinarian about possible treatments in cases of high severity. Hodges says that “real separation anxiety is a severe instance of behaviour, and it is a long-term process.”

Is there a way to prevent separation anxiety?

Even though experts caution that it may not always be possible to prevent your dog from feeling terrified when you leave the house, there are some ways to help your dog feel comfortable and at peace when you have to leave the house.

Set restrictions while at home.

Wood proposes dividing the full day of your dog’s life into two categories: interactions and absences. Like human children, dogs depend on structure and routine in their everyday lives. That suggests that you are in charge of scheduling your dog’s walks, playtime, potty breaks, cuddling, training sessions, and outings. And during those moments when you’re not explicitly interacting with your dog, the expert says they should be in their crate or calmly sleeping. This keeps their minds from racing or worrying while fostering their faith in you.

Bassett agrees that it’s essential for puppies to have early, secure, low-intensity separation from their caregivers. According to Bassett, puppies should, in fact, become used to being separated from their owners regularly. She says that if they are not, they might be frightened and disturbed the first time they are left at home alone, which might prompt them to act out. As dogs require a lot of time and attention, anyone who genuinely lacks time to care for one properly should avoid getting one.

It is tempting to give our dogs constant attention and love when we are home more often than usual. And when your dog “demands” that you continue petting them, it is lovely (with an insistent paw). But if such behaviour goes uncontrolled, it might lead to more severe issues. “The best thing to do is to make sure that the type of behaviour from the dog isn’t rewarded with play, positive attention, or anything else that the dog can perceive as rewarding,” says Blake Rodriguez, trainer and founder of Dream Come True K9. This means removing that attention and adding something the dog views as discouraging, such as removing the type from the area. If the dog wants to enter your space later, it can do so politely and respectfully.

Crate training creates a sense of space and security.

Several experts emphasize the significance of crate training for dogs to avoid actively encouraging your dog’s anxiety. According to Wood, when utilized properly, the crate gives a dog a comfortable, secure place to relax when you’re away or busy.

The optimum time to begin crate training your dog is when they are still a puppy or as soon as you bring them home. Rather than using the crate to punish someone, use it as a means. “I want a dog to get comfortable in a space that is away from me so that they are not on me 24 hours a day,” Rodriguez says of her decision to purchase a crate. If a dog only knows a life in which “I am on top of you and with you, while you’re around,” you run a very high risk of creating separation anxiety.

Woods emphasizes that a crate should never replace personal time with a dog or puppy or become a place where they are kept because providing for them involves too much time, effort, or attention. She says that solitary confinement is harmful to dogs.

Once you do, go.

While you’re away, leave your dog a few treats. Make sure he has a comfortable place to rest, play some music, and provide him with a safe diversion like a puzzle toy filled with goodies. When you arrive home, put the toys and treats away, so they are associated with your absence.

Again, as a precaution, practice quiet departures. Start by not creating the impression that leaving is a significant place.

After a pandemic, preventing separation anxiety

It’s not hard to think that dogs found great wealth under the odd circumstances of the COVID-19 era. As working from home became more popular, more people bought dogs, providing them access to companionship around-the-clock and more walks than they knew what to do with. It was a win-win situation for two social beings who yearned for companionship amid challenging times. If dogs crave routine, what happens when it changes or when owners aren’t around all the time? As Dr Dodman points out, these changes are typical separation anxiety triggers.

According to Rodriguez, many houses will foster an environment conducive to anxiety. If you have a dog that is always with you (and engages in conversation with you), it may seem incredible at this point. It could cause issues if you don’t set up your dog so that there is time for play and interaction, and then there is also some time for separation.

To give yourself and your dog the best chance of avoiding issues later, try your best to maintain that time of separation. That doesn’t always mean putting your dog in a crate or a different room to keep him physically alone. According to Rodriguez, it does include formulating rules “that say, OK. I want you here when I’m cooking or watching TV.

Try to maintain a regular schedule when leaving your house without your dog. Keep that level of distance at home, but stay within the limits you’ve set.

Rodriguez says that now, time and place practice is essential when you have the time to spend with your dog, provide him access to your personal space, and practice separation.

Because the cause of separation anxiety is still unknown, there is no way to take specific precautions against it.

According to Clarke, there are ways to improve your dog’s success when left alone. Consult your dog’s veterinarian and a competent trainer as soon as they notice signs of separation anxiety. Also, remember that training and building a strong bond with your dog should go on for as long as they live, even if they don’t have separation anxiety.