Separation anxiety can be a very distressing problem for both dogs and their humans. The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to alleviate separation anxiety in dogs and make everyone feel better when you leave the house.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
Generally, when the average pet owner thinks of separation anxiety in dogs, they think of a dog that has certain anxious behaviors when left alone. These behaviors can include things like:
- Panting and drooling
- Incessant barking, whining or howling
- Extreme self-soothing behaviors (licking or chewing themselves nonstop)
- Chewing baseboards
- Hurting themselves trying to get out of the crate
If your dog is unable to take a nap and be calm when you leave for the day, separation anxiety might be the issue.
For extremely severe cases, such as if your dog is hurting himself or destroying the house, you will need to call a skilled trainer for help, or even a veterinary behaviorist who will do a detailed medical/behavioral assessment and possibly prescribe medication or supplements to keep your dog calm.
Why Do Dogs Get Separation Anxiety?
Fortunately, many cases of separation anxiety in dogs are mild. The dog is new to the home or something has changed in its world (e.g, the kids have started school, someone has started a job with longer hours or a construction crew has taken up permanent residence on your block). They might not do well in a crate or with too much freedom. Genetics can also play a role in the appearance and degree of anxiety. Every dog is different, and while this behavior can take a long time to fix, it can have a happy ending if the owner is willing and able to put in the work.
Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs
For less severe cases of separation anxiety in dogs, I recommend two things:
Change your routine when leaving the house. If you always put on your shoes and then grab your keys, try putting your shoes on last or grabbing your keys when you’re watching TV. Also, start giving your dog something to do while you are gone, like a peanut butter-and-kibble-filled Kong. Your dog will focus on that while you’re leaving and has a positive association instead of a negative one. It can also help to block your dog’s view of the door so they can’t actually see you leave.
Ignore your dog when you get home. When you come in, put your bag down, take off your coat, go to the bathroom, etc., before engaging with your dog. Try not to speak or touch him for about 10 minutes. If your dog needs to go outside as soon as you come in, try to do as little interacting as possible. What you’re doing is making the dog realize that you coming home isn’t such a big deal, so being alone isn’t all that bad.
This can be a pretty slow process, so be patient with the dog and yourself.