How to deal with separation anxiety in dogs

Separation anxiety in dogs

Separation anxiety is commonly referred to as the stressful state that an animal exhibits when separated from those to whom it is attached. It should be noted that some animals being left alone experience stress primarily from separation from humans, while others experience stress because something bad happened to them when they were alone. 

Animals of the latter group usually suffer from various phobias, especially those associated with noise or thunderstorms. Some veterinarians identify the so-called "over-attachment" as a necessary element of the diagnosis, while others do not use this term. 

It is believed that extra attachment appears in the case of maintaining the primary attachment of the puppy to the mother, which leads to separation anxiety in dogs.

Other frequently cited factors are the adoption of an adult dog from a shelter and severe stress in the presence of over-attachment, which caused separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is a very common diagnosis in dogs whose owners seek advice from specialized centers for behavior problems in their pets, and the proportion of dogs suffering from this disorder increases with age.

It is impossible to say specifically what age or dog breeds are most often exposed to separation stress, but among the examined patients with such a diagnosis, male dogs predominate. 

Owners of very young puppies visit their veterinarians with this problem much less often. This may be due to the owner's inability to recognize stress in the background of other behavioral problems common to puppies and young dogs.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

The classic symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs are destructive behavior, vocalization, and urination/defecation in inappropriate places. However, individual manifestations such as increased salivation, anorexia, escape attempts, or depression may also occur.

  • Destructive behavior: you leave the dog at home alone and on returning in the evening find your sofa/chair/bed torn apart, furniture chewed, window frames and doors eaten or scratched - this does not necessarily mean that your dog is ill-mannered, and she needs to be punished. Most likely your dog is suffering from severe separation anxiety.
  • Constant barking and howling barking: as soon as you walk out the door, the dog begins to bark loudly hysterically or, even worse, howl.
  • The dog defecates at home (when the owner is not at home).
  • Attempts to run away from home: some dogs do anything to escape the house. Someone is trying to destroy doors and windows, other dogs, especially those living outside, begin to dig under the fences. But the essence is the same - the dog is trying to escape from the place where it is "closed" to follow the owner.
  • The dog runs restlessly back and forth: some animals, left alone, this anxiety manifests itself in the form of constant running around the house, often along the same "routine" route. Some pets run in circles, some run in a straight line back and forth, but as a symptom, this is counted only when the dog does it alone when you are not present. If the dog does this in your presence, this is not separation anxiety.
  • Common signs of separation anxiety in dogs when you start getting ready for the exit, or when you have already left: this category includes increased salivation, heavy breathing, "scared" appearance of the dog, attempts to prevent you from leaving, sometimes reaching the level of simulating poor health (if you inadvertently managed to feel sorry for the dog and stay), refusal to eat, etc.

Usually, owners complain about their pet's destructive behavior, sending natural needs in the wrong place and/or vocalizing when they are not at home. Symptoms are intermittent and may come and go.

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When considering separation behavioral problems in dogs, it is necessary to separately examine the behaviors that occur in the absence of the owner.

The motives for such behavior can be fear, anxiety, excessive attachment, excitement due to external stimuli, and/or lack of adequate stimuli. 

Separation anxiety (ST) is stressful for both dogs and their owners. Chronic stress leads to a decrease in resistance to disease, and things that are spoiled by the dog can disrupt the relationship between the owner and his pet.

However, not all dogs that break home furnishings, bark, or send their needs out of control suffer from separation anxiety syndrome. To be sure that a problem exists, a clinical trial must confirm the presence of one (or more) of the 3 main symptoms (destructive behavior, uncontrolled defecation/urination, or excessive barking). In this case, the symptoms should appear in the absence of the owner.

There are other techniques for diagnosing a state of anxiety. For example, in cases where the dog relentlessly follows the owner or too violently "greets" him upon returning home.

If symptoms appear in the presence of the owner, then the likelihood of separation anxiety is practically excluded. 

Why Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety

No specific causes of this disease have been identified. The high social activity of domestic dogs developed as a result of selection contributes to a strong emotional attachment to people and causes the occurrence of stress during separation from family members.

There is no evidence to suggest that some dog breeds are more prone to this type of disorder and some less. But there is an observation that more often it manifests itself in dogs that have experienced a loss, and it does not matter whether it is about the death of the owner, or just one of your members left the house for some days. This is especially common among shelter dogs.

  • Such pets have already lost their owner once and are very afraid that they will lose everyone else.
  • Dogs are social animals, being alone for them is a very heavy blow. 
  • Some dogs are afraid of staying closed in a confined space for a long time, which causes isolation distress.

Early puppy’s memories, such as premature weaning or severe illness, can also be negatively affected. A dog's pampering does not matter in the development of separation anxiety.

Moreover, separation anxiety can develop in a dog, regardless of whether she lives alone or there are other dogs in the house. 

Difficulties can arise from an early age or manifest in connection with changes in the way of life of the family (change in composition, relocation, renovation, change in the daily routine). Such things as a move or a sudden change in the dog's usual “schedule” can trigger the dogs’ separation anxiety.

Symptoms are most noticeable during periods of a close bond between owner and dog. A change in daily routine, coupled with destructive behavior, vocalization, and/or defecation in the wrong place, is an unambiguous hint of separation stress. Some animals show symptoms during all absences of the owner, while others tolerate some of them calmly.

Sometimes it is impossible to establish the situation or trigger that provoked its development. The sudden onset of symptoms in an adult dog may indicate a veterinary or cognitive change, while a young dog may be simply hyperactive.

Stress reactions generally get into the following categories:

  • Anxious reactions in the presence of the owner.
  • Anxious reaction to the owner's preparation for a departure.
  • Ongoing stress after the departure of the owner. Some dogs may develop other anxiety disorders at this time that are not necessarily related to separation stress.

So some of the main reasons for the appearance of severe separation anxiety in dogs include:

  • The dog’s need for socialization.
  • Еxcessive dependence (or attachment) to one or more family members).
  • Predisposing factors (premature interruption of feeding, origin, degree of obedience).

The symptoms of anxiety can be confused with a behavior problem so it is necessary for the veterinarian to examine and determine the condition of the dog. It is important to notice the development of separation anxiety sooner in order to take action and get rid of the problem.

Tips to deal with separation anxiety in dogs

How to treat separation anxiety in dogs?

Stress is a serious problem that can lead to many diseases and disorders in the pet's body. Do not leave the health of the animal without attention, do not wait for everything to be decided by itself. If your dog is under stress, it needs your help and support.

The treatment process is different for everyone - it can last for weeks or take more than a few months. There are several options for dealing with separation anxiety in dogs and everyone selects it individually for their dog.

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  • Living conditions

First of all, it is important to create quality living conditions to prevent separation anxiety in dogs. It is your duty as the owner to provide the dog with everything necessary for a good life. The quality of dog care and nutrition can have a significant impact on its psychological and physical health, and subsequently on its behavior. The dog simply cannot behave normally under abnormal conditions. If you do not provide your pet with all the things necessary for a normal life, any behavior correction is doomed to failure in advance. So pay attention to everything that surrounds your dog every day, think about what else it may need in terms of nutrition and comfort conditions, and provide your pet with a quality standard of living. 

  • Outdoor activities and play areas

Exercise and train your dog while walking, present new interesting toys, and let it get acquainted with other four-pawed animals. Change the usual and boring dog’s lifestyle to a new one full of experiences. Equip your house with various entertainments for the dog so that it always has something to play with and entertain itself during your absence. Allow the dog to spend funny and enjoyable days with positive emotions and impressions. All problems and worries will simply fly out of the head of your happy and games-tired dog.

  • Safe corner

When the dog is stressed or tormented by a feeling of insecurity, it needs to stay in a safe place and to be alone. All that depends on you in this situation is to provide your dog with an inviolable personal space to hide from everything. Such a place can be a cage or a container due to which it will be easiest for the dog to calm down after a nervous situation. But in no case forcefully lock the dog in the cage, use this method if it does not harm or worsen the dog's health.

  • Medication for separation anxiety in dogs

The last helper in the fight against stress is mild sedatives designed specifically for dogs.  Advised to use this method only in those cases if the owner has tried everything and nothing helped to cure separation anxiety in dogs. It is best to consult a veterinarian before using these medicines. They reduce stress levels, protect the nervous system from overload, and help the dog gradually get used to all the stimuli that it will face in the future. You have to follow the instructions, observe the dosages, and not abuse the drugs. 

What you'll NEVER do

Before starting to act, everyone needs to understand how in no case should you act and how to ease separation anxiety in dogs. It is important to stop separation anxiety in dogs by doing it right, without any harm.

The owners have to remember that separation anxiety is not "harmful" but a disease that needs to be treated. Some owners get so annoyed with bad dogs’ behavior that they vent their anger on them, which only makes the problem worse. The dog cannot deal with anxiety on its own and cannot control its behavior.

Since dogs with ST are already under stress, punishment is contraindicated. Any punishment drives the dog into even more stress.

Changes in a dog's daily life can also affect its condition. Situations such as traveling by car, moving to a new home, or having a baby in the family can make a dog nervous. Unpredictable situations can cause nervousness, so it is important to follow the usual routine in everyday life. Give your dog enough time to adapt to possible changes.

It is important to remember that there is no need to arrange dramatic breakups when you leave in the morning, and no less emotional meetings when you return home.

You shouldn’t pump up the dog with pills just because you are too lazy to make an effort to help her - this is not an option.

Take care of your pet, give it your attention and time to ensure your dog lives a happy life with a beloved owner!