We’ve been lucky. We’ve had four dogs (and one foster) an we have yet to experience separation anxiety. When I hear about stories of dogs destroying furniture, I cringe and count ourselves fortunate to have avoided this experience. But as a blogger, separation anxiety and how to prevent separation anxiety is fascinating so I started doing a little research…
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a condition in dogs where they become destructive when left alone. Separation anxiety may be triggered by a big change in your dog’s life like a new family, a move to a new home, a change in the family schedule, or a change in the family structure.
Symptoms of separation anxiety. ~ ASPCA.org
- Urinating and Defecating
- Barking and Howling
- Chewing, Digging and Destruction
- Coprophagia (eating their dog poop)
It may not be separation anxiety.
Symptoms of separation anxiety “occur with 15-20 minutes of the dog’s being left alone. If an owner comes home to find destruction, that is not necessarily separation anxiety. The dog may have become upset by a noise, bored, or is frustrated. If more than one animal is in [the] household, they could have started playing and became overstimulated.” ~ Marsha T Wallace, MD, TellingtonTTouch CAP, IN GOOD HANDS
Contact your veterinarian to ensure that there isn’t a medical concern that needs to be monitored.
Tips on Preventing Separation Anxiety with Your Dog
If you’re determined that your dog isn’t suffering from a medical ailment, then check out this list of a few ideas on how to prevent separation anxiety with your dog. Be sure to check out the article on separation anxiety I found on the ASPCA.org site.
Get plenty of exercise.
We walk our dogs nearly daily. Taking your dog from a long walk or run will take away some of that nervous energy that feeds separation anxiety. Every more, I see the same people walking their dogs before dawn (and before work). It can be a grueling schedule, but everyone will be happier for it in the end.
Leave behind something with your scent.
We used to leave a t-shirt or sweatshirt that we were wearing with our littermates when we left them or put them to bed. We did the same when our puppy joined our family and he settled right in for the night.
Watch your own energy.
When you leave, are you making a huge production of it, possibly transferring your own anxiety about leaving? When I was having training issues with Rodrigo (he would lunge at bicyclists), I found that each of our “incidents” would be preceded by me becoming tense, tightening up the leash, and basically having a quiet meltdown. Rodrigo picked up on all of this and learned to associate it with the bicyclists that were going by.
Your dog may be doing this when you leave if you’re transferring some anxiety; possibly worried about what they’ll do to the house. When we leave our house, we don’t make a big issue out of it. I just say “I gotta go to work” and each of the dogs gets a treat (they love this part) and I go to work.
Limit the impact space.
Another thing we’ve done is created a nice area in the garage (with dog beds, furniture, and dishes) for the dogs to hang out in when we leave. We don’t leave our dogs in the house, but they are protected against the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. They also have access to their own fenced yard. Limiting their access prevents any mishaps. We no longer come home to newspapers strewn all over the yard.
I have friends who have trained their dogs to remain in a kennel; these were dogs who were adopted as adults and were in their kennel for less than 8 hours.
When I finished writing my tips, I realized that I didn’t cover nearly enough so I reached out to the Dog Trainer Community for more tips and I’m happy to share some great information…
Start training puppies and older dogs immediately.
Matt Tuzzo, Owner and Head Trainer of Jersey Shore Dogs shared the following…
Start training puppies to be left alone early on. This means setting up a crate or confinement area in the home. Periodically leave the puppy in the confinement area for short periods of time with a high-value chew item, such as a stuffed Kong. Vary the durations making them gradually longer and longer. This will help get the puppy used to being alone at an early age.
For adult dogs: Before bringing them home, have a crate/confinement area set up. Begin confining the dog the very first day for short periods of time. Sometimes leaving the home, sometimes just going about your business within the home. It is imperative that you also give the dog something irresistible to work on while he is in confinement (i.e. a stuffed Kong with peanut butter, bully stick, marrow bone, etc.). By immediately and gradually training him to be alone, you can increase your chances of preventing separation anxiety from developing. Far too often, new owners spend a tremendous amount of time with their new companions. Then, all of a sudden, when they go back to work, school, etc., the dog is left for an extended period of time. This is when the dog panics. Since separation anxiety is an anxiety-based disorder, the dog becomes sensitized and unable to handle subsequent absences of any duration. Work your new dog up to longer absences and start early on the first day.
“Be boring when you come home – this one is a tougher one because us pet parents look forward to coming home and seeing our pet pals. When people first come home and go right for their dog, throwing [an] “I’m so excited to see you” party, it can backfire” by teaching “the dog all good things happen when you come home, and not when they’re on their own.“ ~ Joan Hunter Mayer, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, The Inquisitive Canine, LLC
Make sure there’s another human to bond with.
“Since we spend so much time with our service dogs and their bonds with their human counterparts are so strong they have a tendency towards separation anxiety. My number ONE recommendation to my students is to make sure they have someone else in their lives that they have a bond with and that brings them joy. For example, have your significant other feed the dog all its meals for a month or take them out on their daily walks every couple of days. Make sure the dog understands that the disabled individual is not always the ONLY source of entertainment and fun in their lives. So if, God forbid, something does happen to the disabled individual the other person can take the dog without fear that it will destroy their house or become a burden in their lives.” ~ Mary McNeight, Director of Training and Behavior, Service Dog Academy
Now it’s your turn! How do you help your dog deal with separation anxiety.