6 Tips to Help your Dog with Separation Anxiety
Just as it happens to us humans, dogs also have fear of being alone or left behind. Does your dog howl every time you leave the house, even if only for a few minutes? If you go away for a few hours, do they stop eating? These could be symptoms of separation anxiety, a common problem among pet owners, one that can make going away very stressful.
If you're wondering how to calm an anxious dog, there are of course different approaches. You can always rely on a pet sitter to keep your dog’s routines intact, but in the long run, this can be impractical.
Separation anxiety in dogs is very similar to a panic attack in humans: sudden feelings of fear and stress that result in extreme behavior. Basically, your dog is terrified of being alone, far away from you!
A Little Backstory
As I already mentioned in previous blogs, my little Lenni had terrible separation anxiety. I discovered this because I got curious about what he’d be doing when I was away. I left the house for 4 hours and I left my Laptop recording the living room, where he spends most of his time. When I came back and looked at the video, I got terribly sad. I could see he was suffering because he didn’t know when I’d come back, or even IF I’d come back. He spent the entire 4 (!) hours howling and crying very, very loudly.
I started researching and discovered that it was indeed a very common problem among dogs. I also found a thousand ways of treating his anxiety and this made me nervous. I knew I had a long way to go!
On this blogpost I will tell you, based on my experiences, the 6 best tips you can use to help your anxious pooch.
Curious? Keep on reading!
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
The most common reason is that the dog was abandoned by a previous owner, as happened with my Lenni. If your dog was rescued from a shelter, he or she may associate their owner's departure with bad things happening to them. Similarly, if the dog's previous owner moved away or died, your Fluffy Friend may be concerned that you will abandon them as well.
Other causes of separation anxiety in dogs could be a change in the composition of the household (like a partner leaving, or a son or daughter departing for university). Moving house could also be a factor, and even minor changes in routine can cause separation anxiety in dogs. For example, during the COVID pandemic, your Fluffy Friend got used to your presence at home and then displayed stress when you returned to work in an office.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety in dogs manifests itself in a variety of ways, and some dogs exhibit only one or two of them. When you leave the house, one of the most common signs is that your otherwise perfectly toilet trained dog begins urinating and defecating on the floor. They may also start barking and howling as soon as you show signs of leaving, and they may continue to howl for a long time after you've left, like for example Lenni did.
However, it's important to note that many of these separation anxiety symptoms can also be indicators of other issues with your dog, such as incontinence or a side effect of medication. If you are unsure, always consult your veterinarian!
How to Prevent Dog Separation Anxiety
The key to preventing separation anxiety in dogs is to teach them to be comfortable being left alone. Of course it would be ideal to do so while they are still puppies, but don’t worry! I adopted Lenni when he was 4 years old, and I still could train him, with patience, discipline and most and foremost, lots of love.
Now that you know what separation anxiety looks like and what causes it, it’s time for the next step, our…
6 Tips to Help your Dog with Separation Anxiety
- Establish a consistent routine
Because your dog is anxious, you should start by making their day more calm and predictable, whether you’re at home or away. Create a daily routine for your Fluffy Friend so that they can learn to predict when they can expect attention (including exercise, feeding, training, play-time and walks) and when they should expect inattention (when they should be napping or playing their favored toys). This will help them associate the time of the day with their level of activity or companionship.
- Meet your Fluffy Friend’s social needs
When interacting with your dog, make sure you are meeting all of their needs for social interactions, play, exercise and training. Basically, if your dog gets everything they need to be happy and content, they will appreciate their ‘’me-alone-time’’ much more. At this point, you can give them new exploratory and chew toys so that they stay motivated and focused when it’s time to settle. Feeding toys can also be used instead of standard food bowls to make feeding time more of a mental and physical challenge.
- Implement a reward system
Take your most ‘’valuable’’ dog treat and ask yourself: What behavior does my dog need to learn? What behavior should I never reinforce?
When your dog has separation anxiety, you must reinforce them for settling down, relaxing, and displaying some independence, whereas attention seeking and repeating behaviors should never be reinforced.
As a result, training should emphasize extended and relaxed down stays, as well as going to a bed or mat on command. If your dog is looking for attention, you should either ignore them completely until they calm down, or have them do a down-stay or go to their mat. Give attention or affection as a reward after a sufficient amount of time in the down-stay or on the mat. Gradually shape longer periods of inattention before attention is given. The goal is to ignore attention-seeking behaviors rather than the dog. You want your dog to understand gradually that the only way to get attention is to be calm and quiet.
- Train “settle” or ‘’calm’'
- Create a relaxation area and surface.
Having a bed or specific location where your dog can be taught to rest, nap, play with their toys, or even sleep can provide a safe haven for your dog when you are not home. You can start by teaching your dog to go to the area and then gradually shape longer stays and more relaxed responses in the area before rewarding him.
Know your dog's limits, on the other hand; your dog must be calm and settled when released to avoid reinforcing crying or barking behavior. That’s why the training always has to go gradually. Initially, you can take your dog to this area as part of their training routine by luring them with a toy or treat. Over time, the dog should learn to lie on their mat after each exercise, play, and training session to either nap or play with their own toys. This is similar to a crate training routine, in which the mat or bed becomes the dog's bed or playpen.
Aside from play, exercise, and training sessions, limit your dog's rewards (treats, toys, chews, affection, feeding toys) to this area, so they’re associated with relaxation and owner presence.
Audible cues such as a radio or TV, odors such as aromatherapy candles or a piece of clothing with the owner's scent and a comfortable dog bed can help to promote a relaxed response.
- Practice responding to simple commands.
It is also beneficial for some dogs to make them earn everything. It can be as simple as having the dog respond to a command like "sit" before receiving whatever they desire. For example, if your dog requests to go outside, the dog is given the command to "sit" before the door is opened, and once they comply, the door is opened. This method can be used for anything your Fluffy Friend wants.
Could you already see some signs of separation anxiety in your Fluffy Friend? What methods have you already tried? We’d love to know!
Also, let us know in the comments what method or tip worked out best for you!
For now, until next time,
… stay Fluffy!
Your MrFluffyFriend Team
Looking for some products that could help you out with your training? Check out our Online-Shop!
Here some useful products in relation to the blog:
Words from our author
Hey! I’m Stivi, thank you for joining our MrFluffyFriend Blog!
As a pet owner, I often found myself in a very frustrating situation: going to the internet and finding multiple unhelpful and redundant articles about the care and training of pets. My mission is to create a community blog where you can find all types of information, training tips and tricks, focusing on natural and organic ways of pet-owning and training. Understanding your pet is like understanding a whole new world - and I want us to discover it together!