dog under a blanket at home

Dog Separation Anxiety + How you can stop it

What is dog separation anxiety?

Dog separation anxiety is when a dog owner leaves their dog alone at home and shows signs of stress. There are many signs to look for when your dog has separation anxiety.

I have listed below the most common symptoms of concern, and although your dog may only show a few or even just one, they need your help. 

Some dogs that suffer from separation anxiety become incredibly agitated or depressed when their owners prepare to leave the house. It’s hard to know what they get up to when you’re not at home. It’s when you return to the family home that you witness the carnage. It can be not very pleasant. 

The symptoms usually start within seconds of the owner leaving and can continue until they arrive home.

Anxiety signs in dogs

  • Destructive
  • Drooling
  • Barking
  • Trembling
  • Whining
  • Pacing
  • Self-mutilation
  • Repetitive behaviour 
  • Vomiting
  • Urinate
  • Defecate

Don’t get confused.

Not all dogs suffer from separation anxiety, some get bored and show signs of stress, but in theory, they are bored and need more stimulation. Older dogs can offer some of the characters, or even dogs with medical problems can show symptoms of separation anxiety. Dogs that aren’t house trained often will urinate or defecate around the house at any time, not just when you are not at home. 

As a dog owner, you should recognise and know the differences and actions appropriately.

  • Vets
  • Training
  • Stimulation

Why does my dog have separation anxiety?

Many dog owners ask the same question. However, it all depends on the circumstances. You generally find dogs that have had several homes tend to get separation anxiety more than dogs with just one family. Did you get your dog from a rescue centre? If so, the loss of an essential person in your dog’s life can trigger separation anxiety disorder. Or, perhaps your dog lives alone with you, and you are inseparable. This can also aid in separation anxiety. Whatever the reason is, we want to help you! 

Leaving a dog at home knowing that they are upset isn’t fair on you either, and understandable can cause you as a dog owner to have anxiety and feel sad. Perhaps your also worrying about what the neighbours are thinking, especially if your dog is excessively howling or barking. 

How can I help my dog with separation anxiety?

Firstly, every dog is different and will not respond in the same way, the below might not cure them, and you may need to think about getting someone on one professional help. But firstly, let’s start with the necessary tactics first, and the professional service just might not be needed. 

Simple dog separation anxiety tactics

Counter-conditioning

What is counter-conditioning in easy to understand terms?

Counter-conditioning means to change a mindset to a positive when met with a potential fear or anxiety moment.

How can I implement counter-conditioning?

That your dog doesn’t usually have at home on a day to day basis, keep a pot of special treats or a box of counter-conditioning toys, only use when you need to leave the house. Implementing that should stop your pup from getting bored within minutes. You can implement this by providing your dog with a play toy or editable treats.  

It would be best if you got the timing right. Some dogs can show signs of distress when you’re getting dressed, and others when you are putting your shoes on or picking up keys. Whenever you spot any of the symptoms listed above, you need to start occupancy their minds and counter-conditioning. Try not to use yourself as the object, as doing so will only worsen when you eventually leave. Please provide them with a toy or treat or both and go about your business getting ready to leave. 

Desensitisation and counter-conditioning

What is desensitisation in easy to understand terms?

Desensitisation is a treatment that requires exposure repeatedly to a situation of fear in short bursts and repeated several times. The treatment will reduce the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs. 

If you have tried just the counter-conditioning tactic on its own and it hasn’t worked, combining it with desensitisation can have positive results.

How can I implement desensitisation alongside counter-conditioning?

You can implement desensitisation and counter-conditioning together, and we already know how to counter-condition. Firstly to desensitisation, we need patience and time from you. You will leave the house for short periods at a time. 

I have prepared the treatment training over two days since most of us usually have two days off a week. Depending on if your dog shows anxiety during your process of getting ready, you may need to start it earlier by providing them with counter-conditioning more before you leave. Please note, do not use yourself as the comfort object to make them happier. 

Day one training – Estimated time 4hrs.

Outline day one – One pretend house to leave and two house absences.

  1. Pick a time you will start from and head out for 5 minutes, provide them with a counter-conditioning toy or editable item. When returning home, put the counter-conditioning toy back in the counter-conditioning box.
  2. At least an hr after, head back out for 15 minutes, don’t forget to provide them with a counter-conditioning object. When returning home, put the counter-conditioning toy back in the counter-conditioning box.
  3. An hr after returning home, pretend to put your shoes on, move your keys and anything else that may trigger their anxiousness. But don’t comfort them yourself, give them the counter-conditioning object for just 5 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes, head on out for 25 minutes. Don’t forget to provide them with a counter-conditioning object. When returning home, put the counter-conditioning toy back in the counter-conditioning box.

Each time your return home, don’t grab the toy or editable chew from them, just if it is easy to do so. Usually, when they greet you at the door, you can quickly slip it away without being noticed. 

Day two training – Estimated time 6hrs

Outline day two – Two pretend houses to leave and four house absences.

  1. Pick a time you will start from and head out for 15 minutes, provide them with a counter-conditioning toy or editable item. When returning home, put the counter-conditioning toy back in the counter-conditioning box.
  2. At least an hr after, head back out for 20 minutes, don’t forget to provide them with a counter-conditioning object. When returning home, put the counter-conditioning toy back in the counter-conditioning box.
  3. After 30 minutes, head on out for 30 minutes. Don’t forget to provide them with a counter-conditioning object. When returning home, put the counter-conditioning toy back in the counter-conditioning box.
  4. An hr after returning home, pretend to put your shoes on, move your keys and anything else that may trigger their anxiousness. But don’t comfort them yourself, give them the counter-conditioning object for just 5 minutes.
  5. After 30 minutes returning home, head on out for 40 minutes. Don’t forget to provide them with a counter-conditioning object. When returning home, put the counter-conditioning toy back in the counter-conditioning box.
  6. Fifteen minutes after returning home, pretend to put your shoes on, move your keys and anything else that may trigger their anxiousness. But don’t comfort them yourself, give them the counter-conditioning object for just 5 minutes.

Each time you return home, don’t grab the toy or editable chew from them, only if it is easy. Usually, when they greet you at the door, you can quickly slip it away without being noticed.

Repeat the above each weekend or any two days that you have available to concentrate.

Last words and some encouragement

Good luck, and I hope this helps you and your dog less anxious when being apart. I have tried and tested the tactics and got positive results. I am now on week two, being back in the office, after five months of working from home and haven’t yet been home to any carnage—just a happy dog to see me, which is normal. 

I would love to hear from you and if this worked for you. Don’t forget you may still need to contact a professional local dog trainer or veterinarian if you find your dog is in an extreme case of separation anxiety.

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