Puppy Separation Anxiety: What Is It
Separation anxiety is a catch-all term that describes feelings and behavior issues that occur with your dog when he is alone at home without you. Separation anxiety happens to both puppies and dogs but happens more often in puppies. It is a serious problem, and should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, many new dog owners dont take it seriously, then end up abandoning their new dog when they exhibit behavior problems at home.
The word anxiety gets tossed around liberally as a descriptor of any worries or uncomfortable feelings you may have. But anxiety is a real condition that affects the way both people and dogs feel and behave. Serious anxiety is much more than a mental condition it can manifest itself physically as well, affecting sleep, mood, appetite, and more. For dogs with separation anxiety, this can mean destructive behavior as well as emotional stress.
Encourage Your Dog To Be Independent
If your dog is especially anxious and struggles to be away from you even for short periods of time, you can work on teaching them to settle on their own. Teaching them this will help your dog become more independent in themselves and will help with further training in the future.
To do this, fill a food toy such as a Kong and place it by your feet while you are watching TV. Do this regularly over the space of a few weeks and gradually place it further away from you each time. This will teach your dog to settle down and engage in activities without you. When your dog is occupied with the food you should still go in and out of the room as normal.
If you are able, installing baby gates throughout the house will allow you to move from room to room without your dog always being able to follow. This will help in training your dog to remain calm when you are not nearby and can sometimes help by showing them that you are still in the house. You could also try scattering a few bits of your dogs daily allowance of dry food on the floor when you leave a room, which will provide them with a distraction.
How To Handle A More Severe Problem
Use the techniques outlined above along with desensitization training. Teach your dog the sit-stay and down-stay commands using positive reinforcement. This training will help them learn that they can remain calmly and happily in one place while you go to another room.
Exercise and mental stimulation are critical to reducing anxiety and stress. Be sure your dog receives adequate exercise before you leave. Walking the same city block each day wont reduce anxiety, but sniffing and exploring new places will.
Create a “safe place” to limit your dog’s ability to be destructive while youre away. A safe place should:
- Confine the dog loosely .
- Contain busy toys for distraction.
- Have dirty laundry to lend a calming scent cue or other safety cues.
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If The Problem Is More Serious
A dog with severe anxiety won’t be distracted by even the tastiest treats. You’ll need to slowly get them used to your absence.
They may start to get nervous when they see signs you’re about to leave, like putting on your shoes or picking up your keys. So do those things, but then don’t leave. Put on your shoes and then sit down at the table. Pick up your keys and watch TV. Do this over and over many times a day.
When your dog starts to feel less anxious about that, you can slowly start to disappear. First just go on the other side of the door. Ask your dog to stay, then close an inside door between you. Reappear after a few seconds. Slowly increase the amount of time you’re gone. Put on your shoes and pick up your keys. Ask your dog to stay while you go into another room.
As they get more used to the “stay game,” increase the amount of time you’re gone. Then use an outside door, but not the same one you go out every day. Make sure your dog is relaxed before you leave.
Only you can tell if your dog is ready to be left alone for longer periods. Don’t rush things. Give them a stuffed treat when you’ve built up to 10 seconds or so apart. Always act calm when you leave and when you return.
Gradually build up the time until you can leave the house for a few minutes. Then stay away for longer and longer periods.
Use Training Enrichment Activities And Calming Tools To Set Your Dog Up For Success
Other forms of training could help make your dog’s transition to more frequent alone time easier. Sueda recommends reinforcing calm behaviors using a go-to-mat cue or capturing relaxed postures. This is also a great time to work on slow, incremental x-pen or crate training.
Adding more enrichment is also valuable. “Creating an environment where the dog really loves interactive feeding toys and enjoys playing the ‘find the treats hidden in the house’ game can be really powerful when we go back to work we can give them something to do,” said DeMartini-Price.
Before you return to work or school, Sueda recommends gradually building up the amount of time you are away, rather than jumping from zero to 10 hours a day. You can gradually increase your time away over a period of one to two weeks. During that time, observe your dog’s reaction to your absence over a camera like the affordable Wyze Cam.
Sueda said that dog-appeasing pheromone , white noise, and nutraceuticals like Zylkene or Anxitane might also help reduce anxiety. Be sure to introduce them when you’re at home so your dog doesn’t only associate them with you leaving.
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Dog Separation Anxiety Symptoms
If youre worried that your dog is exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, familiarize yourself with the symptoms and take action where necessary.
These telltale signs include:
- Destructive behavior, such as chewing on furniture and carpets
- Attempting to escape the house or their crate
- OCD-style behaviors, such as pacing in circles
Some of these problems are naturally more severe than others, however. Escape attempts can be dangerous, as your dog may harm their paws or teeth attempting to dog, claw or bite their way out of their location. For this reason, it is best not to leave your dog restrained by a crate or carrier while youre away if they suffer from separation anxiety.
Signs Of Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety might learn their persons predeparture cueslike putting on a certain uniform, making lunch or organizing a briefcaseand begin to exhibit stress responses before their person even leaves.
Once the dog is alone, they might exhibit any or all of the following hallmarks of separation anxiety:
Pacing: Dogs that are panicked by their persons departure might be unable to settle down and might resort to walking back and forth repeatedly.
Vocalization: Barking and howling are common canine responses to isolation, but dogs with separation anxiety might continue vocalizing the entire time theyre alone.
Loss of appetite: Separation anxiety can cause even the most food-motivated dog to ignore treats and bones.
Destruction: Many dogs suffering from separation anxiety destroy small household itemslike the remote control or pillowsor resort to large-scale destruction, like tearing through furniture, walls, doors or windows.
Elimination: Dogs that are house-trained might have accidents while alone, including diarrhea.
Drooling: Some stressed dogs drool excessively and wind up with a soaked chin and chest.
Escape: Dogs with severe separation anxiety might be able to escape confinement, which can result in injuries.
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Why Does My Dog Have Separation Anxiety Is It My Fault
We can often identify the cause of a dogs isolation distress or separation anxiety.
I can tell you definitively, as a specialist in helping dogs to overcome a fear of being alone, it is almost never the fault of a loving family. Some of the most common factors include:
- Being returned to a shelter after an initial adoption
- Changes in the familys makeup such as a death, a birth, or a child going off to college
- Major changes in a familys routine like returning to work after a period of unemployment or after a summer break
- Puppyhood trauma such as malnutrition or being shipped across the country
We know there is also a genetic component for some dogs that struggle to be alone.
Some dogs, due to breeding or other genetic factors, are simply predisposed to isolation distress. We love dogs, after all, for their desire to be our constant companions; its not their fault that we live in a world that doesnt allow us to keep them at our sides at all times!
Teaching Your Puppy How To Be Alone
Note: keep training sessions short for young puppies! Just 5-10 minutes of practice goes a long way. Practice each day to make separations a routine part of your pups day, and always work at a level of separation where they are not showing signs of stress. If your puppy begins to show signs of stress, go back a few steps to a point in the process at which they were still having fun.
Create a safe enclosure for your puppys alone time.
Provide your puppy with a puppy-proof enclosure for alone time this could be a room, a crate, or a secured exercise pen.
Make sure there are not any dangerous items, such as electrical cords or loose socks that your puppy may ingest, and that there is fresh water available.
Provide a comfortable and safe surface, such as a dog bed or mat that your puppy has been on and has not shown the inclination to ingest.
Have this safe enclosure freely available to your puppy so they can choose to spend time there whenever they want.
Build positive associations with the area.
Practice separations in the same room.
If your puppys safe area is a room, setting up a baby gate in the doorway will allow you to practice the steps below in sight of your puppy.
Practice separations with you out of sight.
Setting up a Wi-Fi-enabled camera in your puppys safe area allows you to watch out for signs of stress while you are out of sight of your puppy.
Practice separations with you leaving the house.
Additional tips for building independence.
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If Your Dog Shows Anxiety When You Briefly Leave Them You Can Help Improve Their Response
For any dog that shows signs of panic at this stage of the game, this is a great time to work on improving their response to being left alone. “It’s a gradual process of using small absences that start to teach the dog that absences are safe,” said DeMartini-Price.
However, the method shouldn’t be reserved for dogs that are already likely candidates for separation anxiety. DeMartini-Price believes dogs that have never shown separation anxiety in the past may be most at risk because there is less understanding of what may be happening when the dog is left alone.
While it’s important to get space from your dog during the day, it’s equally important not to withhold your affection when you are together. “Give your dogs love, give them attention, and don’t think your dog has to ask for everything with a sit. None of that has to do with your dog getting separation anxiety,” said Pratt. “I’ve actually seen dogs get worse . That’s weird to them and that causes stress.”
Preventing Separation Anxiety In Puppies
Note: this blog was written during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and considers the guidelines of the CDC at time of publication in its recommendations.
Right now, many people are staying home to prevent the spread of a novel coronavirus. Suddenly, with unexpected extra time on your hands, it may feel like the perfect time to bring home the new puppy youve been dreaming about! Having lots of time to spend with a new puppy provides a great opportunity to prepare them for the shift back to a busy lifestyle.
Puppies are naturally social creatures and bond very closely with their human guardians. Having their person around all the time and then suddenly being left alone for a full work day may come as a real shock. A sudden experience of being alone for an extended period of time is associated with increased risk of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a very common panic disorder, which can cause some serious issues for dogs and their guardians alike. In fact, separation anxiety related behaviors such as excessive vocalization, destructiveness, and inappropriate elimination are listed as some of the main reasons dogs are surrendered to shelters.
As your new puppy settles into your home and you start to build your relationship, it is essential to prepare them for their new routine when you do go back to work or start spending time away from the house. Weve created a step-by-step training plan to help you teach your puppy how to feel happy and secure by themselves.
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How To Cure Separation Anxiety In Dogs
First things first you never really cure separation anxiety in dogs. Everything that we discussed in the previous section, What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs? will remain relevant throughout a canine lifespan, and your dog will never love being left alone.
Training is always the most impactful way of helping your dog overcome their fears of being left alone, and that is largely achieved by rewarding your dog every time you come home , and ensuring that your dog has enough entertainment to keep them occupied while youre away.
Overall, however, the most important thing is to build a bond of trust with your canine companion. The only way a dog will ever break their separation anxiety is by eventually beginning to believe you when you say that youll be back soon!
That works too, by the way dogs understand more than we give them credit for, so it never hurts to tell your dog where youre going, why, and when youll be back. Dont feel silly about doing this its been suggested that people who speak to their pets are more intelligent.
Can Dogs Overcome Seperation Anxiety
Destructive chewing can be a symptom of separation anxiety
You may have encountered dog trainers or dog owners who give you a negative outlook on separation anxiety.
However, Malena was eager to stress to helloBARK! readers that its simply not true.
In fact, she debunked one of the biggest myths surrounding separation anxiety in dogs:
If you walk into any dog park or training group, youll get people who are like Oh your dog has separation anxiety, Im so sorry to hear that good luck with that. I understand why this myth exists. Alluding back to the misinformation out there, it feels like its not fixable because were doing things that arent effective at resolving separation anxiety. Its entirely fixable. If youre a dog trainer or a guardian of a dog with separation anxiety, please flip that switch and know that its a treatable disorder. Success is rampant when the clients do the proper training.
Fresh with the knowledge that separation anxiety is not a death sentence, lets take how long it can take a dogs to beat separation anxiety.
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Medical Problems To Rule Out First
Incontinence Caused by Medical ProblemsSome dogs house soiling is caused by incontinence, a medical condition in which a dog leaks or voids his bladder. Dogs with incontinence problems often seem unaware that theyve soiled. Sometimes they void urine while asleep. A number of medical issuesincluding a urinary tract infection, a weak sphincter caused by old age, hormone-related problems after spay surgery, bladder stones, diabetes, kidney disease, Cushings disease, neurological problems and abnormalities of the genitaliacan cause urinary incontinence in dogs. Before attempting behavior modification for separation anxiety, please see your dogs veterinarian to rule out medical issues.
MedicationsThere are a number of medications that can cause frequent urination and house soiling. If your dog takes any medications, please contact his veterinarian to find out whether or not they might contribute to his house-soiling problems.
How To Help Your Dog With Separation Anxiety
Its important to have a conversation with your veterinarian about your dogs behavioral issues, as they could point to more serious problems. But know that there are a lot of easy, inexpensive ways you can try to help your dog with separation anxiety before resorting to more expensive or complicated methods.
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What Should I Do If My Dog Displays Separation Anxiety Signs
- Desensitizing her to leaving cues Your pet learns quickly that you are preparing to leave, when you put on your shoes, and pick up your keys. Perform these activities often without leaving, so your pet dissociates these cues with being left alone.
- Ignoring your dog when you return home Although ignoring your pet may seem counter-intuitive, if you fuss over your dog when you return home, you portray the impression that reuniting is a wonderful end to her solitude.
- Saving high-value treats and toys for when you leave Your pets favorite toys and treats, such as a food puzzle, or peanut butter-filled Kong, will distract her while you leave, and keep her mind off your absence.
- Ensuring she gets adequate exercise A tired pet is a happy pet, and if your furry friend receives plenty of physical and mental exercise, she may be too worn out to stress while you are gone.
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