Dog separation anxiety: symptoms and what you can do to help
Dogs, like us, are very social animals. Whether you’re leaving your dog alone for just a few hours or for longer periods it can be a difficult time for the both of you.
However, while you know why this is happening and that it’s only temporary, for your dog, this separation can be confusing and disorientating.
Petplan takes a look at separation anxiety in dogs and what you can do to help your pet be as calm and comfortable as possible when left alone…
Why do some dogs suffer from separation anxiety?
In the wild dogs live in packs and when domesticated we become their pack – which is why leaving them alone can sometimes cause such anxiety.
Owners can sometimes contribute to the feeling of separation by provoking concern when we leave by making a fuss and, conversely, rewarding their anxiety when we return.
A change in routine can also contribute to the anxiety a dog feels, such as a new home or changing the time you leave or come back from work.
What are the symptoms of dog separation anxiety?
While the symptoms may differ from dog to dog, there are often some common symptoms that display themselves.
Straight away, it may become obvious that your dog becomes upset when you leave.
This can often be worse during the first 15 minutes and your dog may even begin to follow you as you leave. During this period your dog may:
- Experience an increase in heart and breathing rate
- Start panting and salivating
- Increase their activity
- Need to go to the toilet
After this period, your dog may begin to chew something that you have recently touched and tear the items into small pieces to surround themselves with your scent.
Once you come home, your dog may follow you around wherever you go and start to display anxiety if it looks like you are about to leave. They may also appear to be wet as they have drank or salivated excessively while you’ve been away.
How to tackle dog separation anxiety
As is always the case, prevention is better than cure and getting a stair gate is a great way of training your dog to relax when on their own.
Start by leaving your dog in a room behind the stair gate with a chewy treat or toy, randomly throughout the day whilst you go about your business.
To begin with, stay in eye shot of your pet and, after a few minutes when they are engrossed in the toy or treat, open the gate and let them decide whether to stay where they are or come into the room with you.
Over the coming days, increase the amount of time your dog is left behind the gate until they are comfortable with you being completely out of sight. Build up to a period of half an hour of alone time.
Once your dog is comfortable with this, you can start to leave the home and return after a few minutes before they become anxious. Repeat this several times throughout the day.
Gradually increase the amount of time you leave them alone for. While, for some pets, this may be a straightforward process, for others it can be distressing.
Take things slowly and, if they become too distressed, take the process back a few steps to where they last felt comfortable and try again – building up slowly.
If the above steps haven’t helped, or your dog has an established separation problem, then seek professional help. Look for a reputable behaviourist via the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors or the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association
Of course, regardless of how well you train them, you shouldn’t leave your dog alone for very long periods of time. If you do work long hours and there is no way to keep any potential pet company, then you need to give serious consideration to whether or not a dog is right for you.
Have you had any experience with dog separation anxiety? Do you have any tips to share? Let us know your story below…