Do you know how to recognise and calm separation anxiety in dogs? In this article we delve into the causes of separation anxiety, also known as separation related behaviour, and suggest how to cope with it and eradicate it in your dog.
Dogs are companions, they build an incredibly strong bond with their owners from a young age and will spend the majority of their life by their owner’s side. This companionship is one of the greatest characteristics of a dog however, you need to be aware of just how strong this bond is to a dog.
Research shows that 8 out of 10 dogs don’t cope well when they are left alone and separated from their owners, what might seem like a quick trip to the shop for you can actually be a stressful and lonely time for your dog left at home.
This scenario is better known as separation anxiety and is an incredibly common thing among dogs for the above reason. While some dogs won’t show any signs of separation anxiety some will show separation related behaviour (SRB) when left alone and away from their owner.
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What Is Separation Related Behaviour in Dogs?
While 8 out of 10 dogs find it hard to cope when left alone, The University of Bristol reports that only 13% – 20% of owners recognise any signs of SRB in their dogs. This means that there is a large discrepancy between owners that don’t believe their dogs suffer separation anxiety and the number of dogs that it actually does affect.
This scenario is easy to believe, dogs will show signs of anxiety when the owner isn’t there to recognise it and therefore it can often go unnoticed. There are however some obvious (and not so obvious) signs that a dog is displaying SRB’s when you are way:
- Howling, barking, or whining (this can often be reported by neighbours or visitors)
- Destruction, this can include chewing and scratching of furniture, walls, and doors
- Excessive pacing
- Toileting inside
- Ignoring treats
- Excessive salivation and drinking
- Overly excited upon your return (reluctance to leave your side and will follow you around)
The most obvious indication of SRB in dogs is pining for the owner immediately after leaving. The initial 15 minutes in which an owner leaves their dog alone is when they will show the most signs of separation anxiety and these SRBs can even be shown in the build-up to you leaving as the dog learns the signs that you are about to leave.
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
As mentioned earlier, dogs are sociable animals and lifelong companions, so they are happiest when they are with their owners (or around a group of other dogs).
Though separation anxiety can be caused by several reasons, the exact triggers will vary for each dog based on breed or personality and could be the result of any of the following:
- Your dog isn’t used to being left alone
- Your dog has recently lost a companion (an animal death or even a breakup between the owner’s partners)
- Something has scared or worried your dog making them feel vulnerable when alone
It’s important to note that getting angry or punishing your dog if it displays any SRB’s will only make the situation worse and cause more anxiety. Therefore, you need to place a focus on recognising and SRB’s and find a way to fix the cause.
How to Recognise Separation Anxiety in Dogs
The signs that display a dog suffering from separation anxiety were listed earlier, this was not an exhaustive list however it covers a range of behaviours to look out for.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety or is displaying any SRB’s then you have two clear actions that you need to take to not only recognise the obvious signs but also the less obvious signs.
Firstly, you will want to record your dog when you leave the house. Fortunately, technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and we now have access to home cameras that allow us to check on our dogs from our phones or laptop.
Getting a specific dog camera is a cost-effective way to check up on your dog while you are out and give yourself some peace of mind that it’s comfortable and relaxed. The first 15 minutes after you leave are the most important to capture as this is when a dog’s anxiety will be at its peak.
Your second option should be to take your dog to a vet. This is because underlying medical conditions or injuries can heighten the feeling of separation anxiety in dogs as they feel more vulnerable when alone (or the SRB’s could be something medical).
A vet will typically check over your dog and often advise that in the absence of any obvious injuries or medical conditions, that your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety and will recommend seeing a behaviourist.
This leads us into the final point which is how you can stop or reduce the separation anxiety for your dog.
How to Stop or Calm Separation Anxiety in Dogs
The most important thing to note when it comes to separation anxiety in dogs is that the older the dog is, the more difficult it will be to calm the anxiety and stop the signs of SRB.
This is only because older dogs are more difficult to retrain, so the earlier you can train a dog to be alone for certain periods of time, the better!
Even when dogs are used to being on their own for an extended period it’s still a good idea to keep the duration as short as possible and we’ll get to that shortly.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety or is displaying any SRB’s then you have a few clear actions to take. The first being to seek professional advice from either a vet or a qualified behaviourist to get a clear diagnosis.
A behaviourist can identify specific things that might be causing your dog stress and can create a program specific to your dog’s needs.
If this feels like a big step then don’t worry too much, there are plenty of things that you can do to calm the separation anxiety in your dog and look to reduce any separation related behaviours.
Boredom, particularly in puppies, can be a key driver in a dog becoming stressed about being on their own which can often lead to destructive behaviour as an ‘outlet’ for their anxiety and entertainment.
Having a special toy that you only give them when you are away can help to keep them entertained whilst also being comforting. Brain games/puzzle toys, chew toys and Kong toys (to give them a treat) are all great ways to eliminate boredom and reduce destructive behaviour.
Training Your Dog to Be Alone
A dog needs to be trained to be left alone if being on its own will be a frequent occurrence. Training your dog to be alone should be done so in gradual stages and built up over time (ideally from being a puppy).
This is not a quick fix method, particularly if you have an older dog suffering from separation anxiety and therefore we have a full guide on training your dog to be alone here.
Minimise Disturbances and Allow Your Dog to Relax
If you get your dog excited before leaving and upon returning, then this is likely to lead to the dog displaying some SRBs. The key to calming your dog’s separation anxiety is to make sure that they see you leaving and returning as a normal occurrence.
Keeping the dog relaxed and comfortable should be a primary focus and it would, therefore, be good to implement some or all of the following point:
- Make sure the bed area is comfortable and relaxing (noise-free room clear from outside disturbances)
- Make sure they have exercised and had a chance to go to the toilet before you leave
- Leave the TV or radio on to let the dog feel like they have company and it reduces any outside noise that might cause your dog stress
- Leave something with your scent on to comfort the dog while you are away
Take Home Message
Separation anxiety can be a stressful issue for your dog, recognising the signs are not always obvious and therefore you should never get angry or punish your dog for any ‘bad’ behaviour when left alone.
Instead, look for the root cause of the issue using some of the tips above and if needed, seek professional guidance from a vet or accredited behaviourist.
Related Article: How Do I Leave My Dog Home Alone?
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