Dog Separation Anxiety – What is it and how can you stop it?

With lockdown ending in the UK, many dog owners are returning to the office and discovering that their dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, and we want to help you notice the common anxiety signs. I can answer why, and give you two treatment tactics on how you can resolve it.  What is dog […]

dog under a blanket at home

With lockdown ending in the UK, many dog owners are returning to the office and discovering that their dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, and we want to help you notice the common anxiety signs. I can answer why, and give you two treatment tactics on how you can resolve it. 

What is dog separation anxiety?

Dog separation anxiety is where a dog owner leaves their dog alone at home, and he or she 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, he or she needs your help. 

Some dogs that suffer from separation anxiety become incredibly agitated or depressed when their owners are preparing 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 back 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 the signs of stress, but in theory, they are bored and need more stimulation. Dogs that aren’t house trained, often will urinate or defecate around the house at any times, not just when you are not at home. Older dogs can show some of the signs, or even dogs that have medical problems can show symptoms of separation anxiety. 

You, as a dog owner, should recognise and know the differences and action 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 that have had just one family. Did you get your dog from a rescue centre? If so, loss of an essential person in your dog’s life can trigger separation anxiety disorder. Or,

perhaps your dog lives with you alone, and you both 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 neither, 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 some, one 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?

You can implement this by providing your dog with a play toy or some editable treats. 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 getting bored within minutes.  

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 make it worse 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 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 and 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 are greeting you at the door, you can quickly slip it away without being noticed. 

Day two training – Estimated time 6hrs

Outline day two – Two pretend house 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 your return home don’t grab the toy or editable chew from them, only if it is easy to do so, usually, when they are greeting you at the door, you can quickly slip it away without being noticed.

Repeat the above each weekend if possible 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 to be less anxious when being apart. I have trailed 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. 

Tip: I did complete the two-part tactic before I knew my start date back in the office. However, I do believe that its never to late to implement them.

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 if you find your dog is of an extreme case of separation anxiety, and the above hasn’t helped. 

Good luck! 

Teresa loves animals and travelling around the UK! She currently has two dogs and two cats. She loves caring for and sharing her knowledge of pets. Qualified Dog Groomer and currently studying Canine Behaviour. She has been part of the Dog Friendly Team since 2016

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