Separation Anxiety in Dogs (the symptoms and how to help your dog)

Mar 23, 2022 | Dogs

Does your dog seem overly anxious when you leave the house? Do you come home to things destroyed? Is your dog overwhelmingly overjoyed when you arrive home? If you answered yes to these questions, it may be that your pooch has separation anxiety. Dogs are pack animals who love companionship, and when separated from their owners can become anxious. The good news is if your pooch does have separation anxiety you can help ease their suffering.

What causes separation anxiety in dogs?

It’s not fully understood why dogs develop separation anxiety, or why some dogs suffer from it and others don’t. It is believed separation anxiety occurs when a dog is separated from the person or people they are hyper-attached to.

There are other situations which can also cause separation anxiety in dogs, such as:

  • Being left alone for the first time
  • Being left alone when accustomed to constant human companionship
  • A response from a traumatic experience
  • Their routine or schedule has changed
  • Change of ownership
  • Change to a family, such as a death of a family member or other pet, a birth, or someone moving out
  • Moving to a new house
  • It can also be genetic, dogs born to anxious parents are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders

Signs and symptoms

If your pooch is suffering from separation anxiety there are a number of behaviours they may display. Signs your furry friend is feeling anxious can include:

  • Dog in house waiting by a doorExcessive barking
  • Scratching doors and floors
  • Destructive chewing, such as chewing furniture
  • Urination and defecation from dogs who are house trained
  • Pacing
  • Digging
  • Trembling
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Attempting to escape the home or yard
  • Self harming in severe cases

Before your pet can be diagnosed with separation anxiety there are a few things that need to be ruled out. There are a number of medical problems and behaviours that are often confused with separation anxiety. These include:

  • Boredom
  • Medical issues or side effect to a medication
  • Lack of physical and mental stimulation
  • Barking due to a trigger, such as an unfamiliar sight or sound
  • Lack of appropriate chew items for teething puppies

Can separation anxiety be prevented?

Have you been working from home and will now be going into an office, or spent the last month or so on holidays, or spent the last couple of weeks settling a new pet into your home? If you have been your pet’s constant companion but won’t be, it may leave your pooch confused and at risk of developing separation anxiety. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prepare your pet for this change. Here are our top tips to help your pet adjust to their new routine:

  • Slowly start implementing your new routine. Our pets thrive on routines, so gradual adjustments will lessen the shock once you aren’t at home constantly.
  • Get them use to being at home without you. Try introducing short periods of separation a few times a day.
  • Allow your pet to have their alone time as this will also help them to feel secure when they are left alone for long periods of time. Try setting them up in a safe and comfortable room separate to yourself for periods of time.
  • Try not to give your pet more attention than what they’ll receive when you are no longer constantly there.
  • Encourage playtime without you.
  • Avoid making a fuss when leaving or coming home. Try to ignore your pooch 15 minutes before you leave, and for the first few minutes when you return before greeting your pooch calmly.

How to help dogs with separation anxiety

It can take time for your dog to unlearn their panic response to your departures. Most importantly don’t punish your pooch for their anxious behaviour. If they are punished it can lead to an even more upset pooch and their anxiety can become much worse. There are a number of tactics you can use to help your pooch. Here are our top tips for helping ease separation anxiety:

  • Two dogs watching a computer screen

    Visual and mental stimulation can help your dog feel less alone

    Leave your pet a recently worn piece of clothing that smells like you.

  • Establish a word or action to use every time you leave that will let your dog know you’ll be back.
  • Exercise. Morning walks are a great way to start the day! By wearing them out before you go to work it should help them to relax and rest while you’re not there.
  • Provide visual or audio stimulation. Try leaving some curtains open so your pet can watch the outside world, or turn the TV on – the visuals and audio can help make them feel less alone. Even their very own Spotify playlist or an audio book left on can help.
  • Provide mental stimulation. Interactive and enrichment toys will keep them entertained for long periods of time, and by rotating the toys they won’t become bored.
  • Doggy daycare. If your doggo is a social butterfly this is a great way to keep them happy, provide socialisation, and keep your mind at ease knowing they are in a safe monitored environment while you’re at work.
  • Dog walker. Not only will it keep them active and fit, but also give them human interaction during the long periods they are alone.
  • See if any friends, family or neighbours can keep your pet company during some of the time you’re away from home.
  • Get your pet a friend. With dogs being pack animals, sometimes having a friend can help anxiety as well as keep each other entertained while you’re not at home.
  • Look for ways for them to be more involved in your day-to-day lives. Try having them tag along to school pick-ups, and family events and outings.

German shepard with a Kong, a toy for separation anxiety in dogsLong-lasting treat toys like Kongs will help keep your pooch busy

In severe cases of separation anxiety speak to your vet. They may recommend drug therapy to reduce your pooch’s overall anxiety as well as behavioural training.

With time and patience, most dogs will become more comfortable being alone at home and the worse of their anxiety symptoms will lessen.

If your pet is ill or injured, contact your closest Animal Emergency Service hospital. or your local vet immediately.

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