How To Help A Dog With Separation Anxiety

Our pets are our best friends, and, in our dogs’ eyes, we are their whole world. Which is why, when owners leave, a lot of dogs develop separation anxiety. According to Medical News Today, more than 70% of dogs get separation anxiety. Pets can become anxious without their owners or in new locations or if they’ve had a traumatic event or if their owners leave them for long periods of time. Whether you’ve moved homes or your routine has changed, your dog can tell. They become nervous and frantic or act out when they’re left. The last thing you want is for your pet to feel anxious when you leave the house.

Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Every dog is different, and they all show signs of stress in unique ways. There are a variety of symptoms that show your pet has separation anxiety. It’s important to know the difference between common stress behaviors and actual anxiety. If your dog shows multiple symptoms and nothing seems to be helping, there’s a good chance he is suffering from SA.

Photo: Flickr/Rob and Stephany Levy

Some common SA symptoms include:

  • excessive barking
  • escaping or trying to escape
  • pacing or roaming the room
  • chewing or destructive digging

Excessive Barking

Do your neighbors complain about your dog barking while you’re away? Unfortunately, this is a big red flag when it comes to your dog’s anxiety. This is the kind of barking or howling that goes on for hours and doesn’t seem to be triggered by anything else.

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Escaping or Trying to Escape

If you put your dog in a crate and they do whatever they can to escape, there’s a good chance they have SA. Scratching at the crate, chewing or digging at the walls or door of the room you left them in, they’ll do anything they can to attempt to escape.

Pacing or Roaming the Room

Is your pet pacing or roaming the room when they’re left for long periods of time? This is very common with dogs who have SA. Hopefully they’re not burning a hole in the carpet where they’ve been roaming. But they won’t relax. They’ll pace and roam the entire time you’re away.

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Destructive Chewing or Destructive Digging

Even if you leave your dog outside or in a room where they might feel safe, dogs with separation anxiety tend to chew and dig destructively. You may find the legs of your tables chewed or huge holes dug up in your yard or even big scratches in your door. Some chew on objects until they’re torn to shreds. Be careful if they’re left alone; you may come home to a chewed-up couch. These animals display their anxiousness by non-stop digging and chewing.

What is Puppy Separation Anxiety?

It’s very common for new puppies to be anxious. While training a puppy, it’s important to know the difference between standard puppy nerves and real separation anxiety. Does your puppy do any of the above behavior excessively? Even after training your dog, does he/she still show signs of being anxious? Then it’s a good idea to assess your puppy and see if they have SA. Again, if you’re unsure, ask a professional.

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Medical Problems to Rule Out First

It’s a good idea to rule out any medical problems before you just assume your dog has SA. Call your vet and let them know of your pet’s symptoms before diagnosing them yourself. Your pet may have a bladder infection, or maybe there’s a reason they’re trying to chew through your couch. A number of medical issues could be taking place—including a urinary tract infection, a weak sphincter caused by old age, hormone-related problems after spay surgery, bladder stones, diabetes, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, neurological problems, and abnormalities of the genitalia.

Natural Remedies For Dog Anxiety

Photo: Unsplash/Per Lööv

There are plenty of over-the-counter dog anxiety products, but sometimes it’s best to treat Fido naturally. Whether it’s oils, mists, or toys, these natural remedies can help cure separation anxiety.

Eau de Bedtime Calming Mist

Photo: GreaterGood

Spray this all-natural blend of essential oils on your dog’s bed or blanket and watch the calm set in. This essential oil mist is said to help calm your pet, especially before bedtime.

Dog Whisperer Essential Oil

Photo: GreaterGood

Cedarwood, lavandin grosso, basil, frankincense, ginger, and marjoram essential oils are known to cause a calming effect. This essential oil blend may help your dog quiet their nerves and keep them calm during times of stress.

Anti-Anxiety Calming Coat

Photo: GreaterGood

Similar to swaddling a newborn baby, gently wrapping a dog in a Calm Coat has a peaceful effect that is beneficial for both you and your pet. This is the most effective anxiety solution voted by veterinarians.

Interactive Puzzle Mat

Photo: GreaterGood

Take your dog’s mind off the fact that you left and keep them entertained with this puzzle mat. Use this mat to hide treats or food in, getting Fido to interact and get to the treats however they can — a fun, easy way to also help with your dog’s anxiousness.

If your dog has mild separation anxiety, another good idea is to give him a bone or something to occupy their time. Fill their Kong with peanut butter, or freeze the Kong with peanut butter inside to ensure they’ll be busy for longer. By giving your dog a bone, it may help him keep his mind off the fact that that he’s been left alone. If none of these remedies work, some owners have found they need to take their dog with them to work, come home during lunch hours, or even find a sitter for the dog while they’re away.

Photo: Unsplash/Mike Burke

Separation Anxiety Medications For Dogs

After trying all-natural remedies, you may talk to your vet and come to the conclusion that your dog needs drug therapy for their nervousness. With many dogs, the use of medication isn’t uncommon for treating separation anxiety, especially if your dog’s separation anxiety is severe, where they’re soiling the carpet or hurting themselves. To find the best treatment, be sure to research veterinarians or veterinary behaviorists in your area. Hopefully, they can get the right anti-anxiety medication for your dog.

Can Dogs be Left Alone All Day?

If you started with a puppy, you know that they cannot be home alone for a long time, but, usually, when a dog is older and trained, they can be left alone all day. Some dogs, especially those with anxiety, cannot. It’s a good idea to bring your dog to daycare if you can, come home whenever possible, take your dog to work if you can, or have a neighbor or family member let your dog out during the day. The shorter period of time your dog is left alone, the better. Please be aware, though, that your pet may need many years of learning the significance of your departure cues in order to understand that the cues no longer predict your long absences. He must experience the cues many, many times a day for many weeks.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/KarinaHolosko

Also, if you do have to leave for a long time, try to make your departures brief. Some experts say that a dog’s anxiousness is caused by the fear of knowing the departures are coming. When your pet sees you getting your shoes and coat on, they start to panic. Train your dog to understand that you’re coming back. Do not drag out a long goodbye; make your departures brief. Simply grab your things, tell your dog you’ll be back, and exit the door. And if you can, try to practice this routine for shorter periods of time so your dog understands you’ll be back. Grab your keys and put on your shoes and leave for 5-10 minutes.

Change Your Routine

Some jobs are accommodating and will let you leave to come home and let your animal out or take them for a walk. Try to get off work earlier if you can; the longer your pet sits alone, the worse it’ll be. Bring him to doggy daycare if your budget allows. A lot of animals find comfort playing with other pets—plus they’ll burn all their energy and make things easier for you.

Does Crating Help or Hurt Dogs With Separation Anxiety?

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Crate training usually makes your pet feel less anxious, but many owners find that a dog may feel trapped inside their kennel—they’re more nervous and aggressive. But sometimes, depending on the breed, occasionally kenneling can help. Certain breeds may find comfort in a small, dark, cool space. It’s best to test out the crate for shorter time periods, possibly while you’re home, to see how your dog reacts to being inside the crate. Crate training can be wonderful, but some dogs start panting and shaking. If this happens, then, odds are, he’s scared, and his anxiety is on the rise.

As common as SA is in dogs, it’s good to know there are solutions out there. Every dog breed is different and so are their symptoms. Keep trying to find a solution for your beloved dog. Keep in mind it’s never okay to punish your dog for their behavior, especially if he has SA. And, as always, be sure to ask your vet prior to any separation anxiety treatment.

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