Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Does your dog get anxious or fearful when you are out of the house?  Dogs can exhibit stress and fear in many ways so if your dog exhibits one or two odd behaviors it might not be something you need to worry about. However, if they regularly exhibit multiple of the behaviors listed below, it is very likely that your dog has separation anxiety. While these behaviors commonly occur while you are away, dogs can start to show them as you prepare to leave.

So how can you tell if your dog has anxiety? There are several important symptoms to look out for:

  • Whining, pacing or trembling
  • Drooling and panting
  • Peeing in the house
  • Excessive barking or howling
  • Chewing, scratching, digging, ripping things apart and other destructive behavior
  • Escape attempts – some can cause serious injury
  • Not eating their food or treats

Just like humans, dogs experience anxiety. While unpleasant, it can be a normal and healthy emotion. Dog anxiety can affect all breeds, but will effect each individual dog differently. Although it is something that all dogs experience from time-to-time, if disproportionate levels of anxiety are left unchecked, a dog can develop an anxiety disorder. If left untreated, dog anxiety can lead to behavioral and other issues.

The best way to treat anxiety is to talk with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help you identify the type of anxiety your dog suffers from and the possible causes and triggers. Your veterinarian will also be able to help you determine if the anxiety is simply situational, or if it is becoming an overwhelming issue for your dog. Additionally, veterinarians can also rule out any other medical conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms.

Your veterinarian will help you come up with a treatment plan. Since excessive anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors, the best way to treat it is usually through a combination of training, preventive strategies, and in some cases, medications.

Preventive Strategies

If your dog is exhibiting mild to moderate separation anxiety, the goal is to remove the anxiety the dog feels from being alone. This is a gradual process that starts with short timeframes of independent activities that grow into longer time periods spent apart from the dog. Here are a few things you can do to help your dog feel secure.

Calm Exits/Entrances: When leaving or entering your house it is best to say a simple goodbye and hello or even ignore your dog. Emotional greetings, when you leave and arrive home, tells your dog that it is a big deal that you left.

Continuously Come and Go: Help your dog learn that you are not abandoning them every time you leave the house by practicing leaving and returning before they get upset. For some dogs it might require smalls steps in which you pick up your keys, walk out the door and walk right back in. For other dogs you might be able to walk outside for a few minutes before entering your home. Continue to increase the amount of time you leave as your dog gets more comfortable.

Tired Dogs Are Happy Dogs: A well-exercised dog means a happy and less anxious dog. Before you leave for a long period of time make sure your dog gets some type of exercise like a long walk or run or playing catch for a good amount of time.

Break Your Routine: Some dogs start to get nervous as you prepare to leave. They recognize your routine of getting dressed and packing up your bag. Break the pattern your dog sees by getting dressed, grabbing your keys and sitting down on the couch or getting dressed and sitting down to watch a movie.

Make Alone Time Fun: Give your dog a special treat, that they only get when you leave, like a frozen Kong filled with peanut butter or a snack that will take them awhile to eat. It’s important that they only get this special treat when you are gone. While at home you can help your dog become comfortable with being away from you by increasing independent playtime with mentally stimulating games or tricks.

Take Your Dog To Daycare: Find a doggie daycare where dogs can run and play getting plenty of exercise and even learning a new command or two. Paired with dogs of similar size and personality, dogs enjoy endless socialization making it the most exciting day ever!

Like humans, many dogs will experience anxiety at some point throughout their lives. Although not all dogs will have anxiety that leads to a diagnosable anxiety disorder, it’s important to know the causes, symptoms, and treatment options involved with dog anxiety. Understanding these important facets can help you, as an owner, know the best ways to help your dog in anxiety-inducing situations. If you think that your dog might have an issue with anxiety, it’s best to consult your veterinarian — your veterinarian can diagnose your dog, rule out any other health issues, and help you develop a treatment plan that best fits your dog and lifestyle.