What is Dog Separation Anxiety?
In some ways, dogs are like humans.
Like us, dogs like routine and often get stressed over large changes in their schedule. This is especially true for negative changes that they do not expect, and do not understand.
Dog separation anxiety usually occurs when our own schedule shifts, thereby disrupting the amount of time we are able to spend with our dogs. When faced with such disruptions, dogs may get stressed and become destructive.
A dog with separation anxiety may chew up household items, and urinate or defecate in the house.
Note that these are displacement behaviors, that occur as a result of stress. They are NOT the result of dominance, vengeance, or maliciousness.
To fix separation anxiety issues, we want to target and reduce our dog’s stress, and not punish him with physical corrections. Pain or dominance based punishment, will often increase stress, and thereby worsen our dog’s anxiety problems.
Dealing With Dog Separation Anxiety
Sadly, we will sometimes get busy, need to travel, or work long hours to meet a deadline. After all, we must go out in the wild world, so that we may put kibble on the table.
Therefore, how do we deal with separation anxiety, and make things better for our dogs?
Dog Separation Anxiety 1 – Daycare
One of the best ways to deal with schedule changes, is to put our dog in daycare. In this way, he gets the company of humans and dogs, while we are away. He also gets to brush up on his dog-to-dog, and dog-to-human socialization skills.
Before committing to a daycare center, it is important to drop by for a tour of the facilities. Ensure that the place is clean, well supervised, and suited to our dog’s temperament. However, even a well-run daycare center may sometimes fail to detect dogs that carry common ailments, such as kennel cough, puppy warts, demodectic mange, and fleas.
Therefore, make sure that our dog is up to date on his vaccinations, before putting him in daycare or boarding.
A dog who is up to date on shots, may still catch something from playing all day long with so many different dogs. This is especially true for puppies and younger dogs, who still have developing immune systems. Unfortunately, this is a risk we must accept, if we decide to put our dog in daycare.
Dog Separation Anxiety 2 – Pet sitter
If we are uncomfortable with sending our dog to a public daycare, we can also hire a pet sitter to keep his separation anxiety issues at bay. The sitter can walk him, and keep him company at home.
Make sure our pet sitter is insured, qualified, has good references, and most importantly, gets along well with our dog.
Although they may be more expensive, I try to find sitters who are also dog trainers. This means they have more experience with dog behavioral issues, and can better deal with a misbehaving, stressed, or fearful canine.
Make sure to give the pet sitter our cellphone number, the location of our vet, as well as special instructions for our dog, including allergies and important house rules.
Dog Separation Anxiety 3 – Try to keep to a schedule
Another way to alleviate separation anxiety issues, is to try and keep to a fixed schedule.
During holidays, go out and visit some friends, so that our dog has his usual alone time. If we have to be away unexpectedly, have a familiar friend come over to fill in for us.
If the change in routine is temporary, we can also have our dog stay over at a friend’s house. First, try bringing our dog over for several short visits. In this way, we are around to make introductions, and help him with the transition to a new environment.
If all goes well, do short stay-overs, then slowly lengthen the time.
Dog Separation Anxiety 4 – Exercise our dog
I take my dog out for a long walk before leaving. This will give him an opportunity to fully relieve himself outside, and also put him in a more restful state of mind.
I take my dog out for another walk, after I get home. Exercise helps to relieve stress, and gives our dog important mental and physical stimulation. Neighborhood walks also help to socialize our dog to a variety of people, objects, other dogs, and other animals.
If we had to stay cooped up in the house all day, we would get cabin fever as well.
Dog Separation Anxiety 5 – Desensitize our dog
Get our dog accustomed to us leaving the house.
First, I start with the ritual of getting my handbag and keys, as well as wearing my shoes. I walk to the door, then sit back down. I repeat this many times throughout the day, so that my dog gets comfortable with my “leaving the house” ritual.
Once this occurs, I walk to the door, leave, and come back to the room. I repeat this until he is relaxed again, then slowly lengthen the time that I am away.
When I achieve an away-time of about 15 minutes, I get in my car, circle the block, and come back.
Make leaving and coming home as low-key as possible.
When I return home, I ignore my dog until he is calm and resting. In this way, he does not spend all day anticipating my return. I also leave him with many interactive, chew-safe food toys, so that he has something interesting to do when home alone.
Dog Separation Anxiety 6 – Dog Medication
There are a variety of medications available, to help treat dog separation anxiety symptoms. However, to be effective, these medications must be used together with a behavior modification program, which includes a rigorous exercise and desensitization routine.
The medication alone will not solve our dog’s anxiety issues. However, it can help mute the symptoms, so that our dog can benefit from the accompanying retraining process.
Dog medication should only be used under the direction of a vet, and only for the short-term.
Dog Separation Anxiety
Dealing with dog separation anxiety will take time, and a lot of patience.
In general, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, we want to start desensitization exercises as early as possible, before any anxiety problems develop.
If we have a very busy lifestyle, consider volunteering at our local shelter or SPCA instead of buying a puppy.
Only get a dog when our schedule becomes more regular, so that there is less danger of separation anxiety, and other behavioral issues.
My dog is wonderful when I am home. Sleeps most of the day, great with kids, decent at listening to basic commands. However, staying home alone is a different story. We tried crate training and that was an absolute disaster. He HATED the crate. He is a rescue so I am not sure what his history with crates is. We tried going slow, tried getting him to eat his meals in the crate, tried having him in the crate while we were home, hell I even got in the crate with him. He went through 4 crates. Destroyed the first three, the 4th one is indestructible, but he broke off 2 of his teeth on it. The second he would get in the crate, he would vibrate he was so panicked and he would bark the entire time we were gone without stopping to even catch his breath. Didn’t matter if it was 20 min or 4 hours. Because he would bark so much he was constantly losing his voice and dehydrating himself to the point that whenever he would get those first few sips of water when we would get home and let him out, he would puke it all back up. The couple times he was able to escape from his first few crates, he would destroy the wall next to the front door. Made it through the drywall to the exterior sheeting one time. Sooooo, I decided to ditch the crate and get a Furbo. Since then I have been training him to stay home alone without the crate. He no longer tries to chew the wall, however he continues to howl constantly after being alone for about 30min-1hr. He was doing good on his own for about 4 hours a few weeks back before starting to howl, but for some reason in the past two weeks he has started howling after as little as 20 min. I am at a loss of what to do. I am happy with the progress we have made so far, and am usually home most of the day as I am still in school, however graduation is quickly approaching and that mean working full time and he needs to be ready for that sooner rather than later. As it is right now, he can be home about 30min-1hr. He paces, waits by the door, and HOWLS. He sleeps ALL day when I am home, but the second I leave it’s game over. HELP!!
Have two male Shiba pups 7 weeks old and the momma who is approximately 5 years old. Should I be separating them in different crates throughout the day and night? They all have their own beds in a pen area we set up in our kitchen and for now they SOMETIMES respect each others space.
Are separate beds in the same area ok or should we be crating them separately in the same or different areas?
Hi. We have a 6 year old cocker spaniel poodle mix girl. Very sweet and gentle. Smart and well trained. No accidents in house unless sick. Even then she would poke me to take her out even if in middle of night
My daughter was home much of the day so she was rarely left for more than 3-4 hrs at a time.
However she has moved and only home on weekends (about 4 weeks now). We arrange to have someone come at lunch to take her out (my husband, mother, myself and just today with a dog walker). But she is alone for about 4 hrs in am and afternoon. This is quite a change for her to have this as her daily routine and not the exception.. we take her out first thing around 615, feed her by 645 and then another walk and home by 730 for the morning. She is out at lunch then I take her out for walk and play before supper then follow our regular pattern with another walk or 2 in evening. The problem is she has some accidents pooping in the house. I am not sure if anxiety or if change in her routine (as she could be taken out when needed).
Not sure what to else to do. Any suggestions?
My family dog always has problems when I move away for school. When I leave she ends up going through the garbage no matter where we put it. But she will only do it when no one is home. We don’t know what to do.
Help……I have a 7 month old shiba. Always been great with being crated at night or when we go out for a couple hours. Recently neutered. Well since the cone has been taken off almost a week now when I crate him as soon as je gets in he throws up then done and that’s it. He’s acting fine going te bathroom fine. Nothing out if the ordinary. What could this mean????
My boyfriend and I adopted a four year old Weimerainer Australian cattle dog mix. We have been able to crate him successfully over the past three months up until a few days ago. He managed to break out of his crate and get into the trash. We bought him a bigger crate in hopes that would work but he immediately got out of that one too. He also hurt himself pretty good. About 600 dollars in vet bills and anxiety meds. We’re currently trying to leave him in our apartment unsupervised to see how that goes. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!!
My dog is about 12 years old and has never played up about spending time on his own because we work full time but recently he has been acting up he scratches all the doors that are shut and gnaws at the door frames if he can’t get the door open can’t understand why And he just keeps wondering round when we are in the house with him just doesn’t seem to settle for long
There is definately a lot to find out about this subject.
I like all the points you made.
Angelique Manzo says
I have a 6 month old husky who is well party train and knows when to go outside however it seems like any time I leave the house or Room he defecates on purpose which in turn makes me angry at him. I understand now that he has separation anxiety issues, I am wondering if it’s too late to correct him on how to fix it?
I have an almost 4 year old german shepherd, I have had him since he was a pupp. Here in the last couple months he has been tearing up my trash, I triedI to put him in my bedroom when I leave but he put scratch marks and tore the pain from my trim and door, and ripped almost all the way through the door, this hasn’t just happened in 1 day… Its been in the last 3 weeks and well my door and trim are totaled. Me and my girlfriend of 2 years had our daughter 3 months ago but this started almost 4-5 months ago.. She has lived with me for over a year and a half.. Why is he randomly starting and doing this??!! Please help.. He has never been in a cage or kennel, he has never been put on or used medications and I dont want to have to do that stuff either?? What can I do??