If you’re welcomed home by a scurry of fluff and paws that cannot contain their excitement, you’re more than likely a dog owner. If—like the rest of the world—you’ve recently replaced your two-legged office mates with a four-legged ball of fur, then you know just how much their happy face brightens up your day, and how they’ve become a part of your new work culture.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and you’ll soon head back to the office, leaving your four-legged companion behind. While some dogs will adapt to this change, while others may battle and show signs of separation anxiety. While this condition isn’t unique to the ‘new normal’ it’s likely to increase in prevalence in the next year, and it’s always good to know what to watch for to ensure your dog stays stress-free.
Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety In Dogs
If your dog acts out when you leave them alone, they may experience separation anxiety.
Signs of this include:
- Scratching and digging at windows, doors, and walls
- Excessive chewing
- Barking, whining, crying, and howling
- Pooping and peeing in the house
Possible Causes Of Separation Anxiety
While the reasons differ from dog to dog, and the underlying causes are yet to be determined, there are some common elements that seem to trigger separation anxiety.
- Staying home alone for the first time
- Being used to human interaction and suddenly being left alone
- Time spent in kennels or a shelter
- A change in routine
- Losing a family member or pet companions
- Missing their owners
Unfortunately, this condition can affect all dogs, although some breeds are more prone to being nervous and anxious than others. Life events and experiences, the environment, and genetics all play a part in whether or not they’re likely to suffer from this condition.
Anxiety can manifest in many ways, and it can be mild, or extremely severe. Some dogs understand when you’re going to the bathroom or quickly popping out, while others go into a complete tizzy. Sometimes, people view this behavior as disobedient and not a cry for help. But a cry for help is exactly what it is.
Fortunately, there are ways you can alleviate or manage your dog’s separation anxiety.
Create A Routine
In the same way that we crave routine and structure, so do dogs. Try to stick to constant feeding, sleeping, and play routine to create a sense of balance. You can also try to counteract the behavior. For example, give them a treat or toy to keep them occupied when you leave, and reward them when you return and they’ve not been destructive.
If your dog panics when you leave for long periods of time, try to work your way up to a full day away slowly. You can start with short trips and build up to a few hours, and finally a full workday. In time, they’ll realize that you come home, and will feel more relaxed when you leave.
It’s important to remember that it’s natural for your dog to miss you, but when the behavior becomes problematic, you’ll need to find a way to manage the situation accordingly.
Managing Separation Anxiety
- Avoid dramatic entrances and exits. If you make a fuss every time you leave, your dog will get worked up. Make leaving a quiet affair that feels normal.
- Remain calm when greeting your dog. If they’re really excited, ignore them until they calm down and then say hello. This normalizes the return process too.
- Give them an item of clothing or blanket that smells like you. Your smell is familiar and soothing, if they have an item with your scent on it, they’ll feel less stressed.
- Give your dog a safe space that will keep them out of harm’s way and limit the chances of destruction. You can crate train them, or give them a room that’s ‘theirs’. If keeping them indoors isn’t an option, create a safe space in the garden with adequate shelter they enjoy spending time in.
- Administer calming medication or natural calming treats. Your vet can prescribe calming medication that will help curb your dog’s anxiety. Alternatively, if you prefer the more holistic approach, you can give them natural CBD dog treats that have a calming effect.
- Chat to a behaviorist about training techniques you can try. There may well be positive reinforcement techniques that you can use to reduce anxiety.
- Invest in mentally stimulating puzzle toys to keep them busy while you’re away. A busy brain reduces the chances of stress and will make your dog tired too.
- Ensure you exercise your dog daily. Pent-up energy can manifest as anxiety too, and exercise also releases feel-good hormones that reduce stress.
- Look into doggie daycares or pet sitters. If you know you’ll be away for an extended period, this can be an excellent option.
- Don’t add another dog to the equation. This may worsen the situation as they fear being away from you, not being alone.
Separation Anxiety Is Not a Punishable Offense
Have you ever stopped to think that your dog values you just as much—maybe even more—than you value them? You’re their provider and companion, and they rely on you for everything. If you’re not around or the home environment has changed, it’s scary!
Punishing a dog that’s suffering from separation anxiety should never be an option. Their behavior is a red flag indicating something is wrong, and this is the only way they can show you. Raising your voice or punishing them in any way may make them more anxious and exacerbate the issue.
While separation anxiety can be challenging, it’s something that you can deal with. If you know what to look for, and what to do, you can help your dog feel less anxious, and live a happier, healthier life.
Author Bio: With a background in holistic medicine, Amelia Palmer is a freelance editor and writer covering a variety of topics. When she’s not writing, you can find her volunteering at her local animal shelter or at the dog park with her two rescues, Bandit & Belle.