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How to Help a Dog with Separation Anxiety

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Separation anxiety is one of the most complex, and sometimes one of the most difficult, behaviors to deal with. While it is not always easy to manage a dog with severe separation anxiety, it is possible.

If you are unsure where to start, use this article as your guide of where to begin helping your with his separation anxiety.

What causes separation anxiety in dogs?

Every dog is an individual and there is no solid evidence for what exactly causes separation anxiety, making the cause mostly a mystery. However, it is most often seen in dogs who have suffered traumatic life events, such as being abandoned or surrendered to an animal shelter.

Some dogs are just more naturally prone to anxiety like some people are; even dogs who have lived with one family their entire life may develop separation anxiety as a result of a significant life change. For example; a child moving out of the house, the death of a family member, a family member who worked from home returning to working outside the home.

What are signs of separation anxiety in dogs?

side view of scared yorkshire terrier laying down, wearing a red bowtie

Before we discuss the signs, you should know that separation anxiety presents from mild to severe cases. Based upon how much your dog suffers from separation anxiety, their behaviors will be mildly annoying, to incredibly harmful to their health and wellbeing.

The extent of their separation anxiety will dictate the treatment required as well, making the signs the best place to begin making plans to help your dog.

Keep in mind that every dog will likely exhibit some less than ideal behaviors at some point in their lives; they are mentally the age of human toddlers, who are not notorious for manners, so it is to be expected.

This means that your dog’s behavior might not be a result of separation anxiety. However, the factors contributing to these behaviors determine how you should handle them, so it matters greatly what the cause behind any bad behavior is.

The difference between separation anxiety and other causes of behaviors is quite simple; separation anxiety driven behaviors only happen when you leave your dog.

Any behaviors that occur in your presence have other roots.

According to the ASPCA, some of the most common signs of separation anxiety are:

barking yorkie on grass

Vocalizing their displeasure. Many dogs who suffer from separation anxiety will bark, howl or whine when their “pawrents” leave the house. This behavior usually commences within minutes of you being out of their sight.

Accidents. Dogs who urinate and or defecate when separated from their owners likely had an accident as a result of becoming anxious, unless they were left alone for too long.

If your dog was alone for 10 hours or another excessive period of time, he may just have really had to go.

Coprophagia. Some dogs who have accidents as a result of separation anxiety may take it a step further with this very undesirable behavior. When dogs eat their excrement, it is referred to as Coprophagia.

Destructive behavior. Dogs with more severe cases of separation anxiety often become destructive when left alone as a result of their anxiety.

This could range from chewing on a shoe or a pillow in mild cases, to voraciously chewing at dry wall, windows and doors in severe cases.

Escape attempts. Dogs who suffer from more severe separation anxiety might even actively attempt to escape to find you. Thankfully they cannot turn door knobs, but their escape efforts could result in serious injury and even escape in some circumstances.

Repetitive Behaviors. Some dogs will repeat behaviors such as pacing, licking, etc. that give them comfort when they are separated from their owners.

How can you help a dog with separation anxiety?

Even though separation anxiety is a complex behavioral issue, the good news is that there are ways to help your dog if she suffers from separation anxiety:

Make a routine and stick to it. Dogs love routines. Make a daily routine that you will mostly be able to stick to on the average day. When change is necessitated, keep as close to the schedule as you can.

Offer physical and mental exercise before leaving. Whenever possible, walk your dog or work on training before you leave. If your dog gets exercise or has to use her brain, she will be a little tired when you leave, which will give her less energy to devote to thinking about being separated from you.

Offer high value items before leaving. Give your dog high value items, that are safe for her to have alone, such as a kong stuffed with food, before you leave.

You could stuff the kong with kibble and wet food to feed a whole meal, or stuff it with peanut butter, low fat cream cheese, and other treats. For maximum entertainment, freeze the kong over night so that it takes your dog longer to extract the goodies.

ONLY offer this particular high value item when you leave; this helps your dog to associate you leaving with something positive. If you offer this high value item when you are home as well, it will not be as effective, so be sure to find another special treat to give your dog when you are home.

Do not make good byes dramatic. Do not make a big deal about leaving your dog alone. Even though it makes you sad to leave them, do not change the tone of your voice and fuss over them.

If your dog has separation anxiety, your reaction will tell her she really does have something to be concerned about, and she might begin to associate a heartfelt good bye with you leaving, making what is an attempt to tell your dog how much you love her the first cue she associates with being alone.

Study your dog. Watch your dog’s reactions when you leave. Does she react when you grab your purse or put on your shoes?

If possible, set up a camera to see what she does when you leave. The severity of the behaviors that occur while you are gone will dictate how you should handle this behavior. If your dog suffers severely from separation anxiety, or if you just are unsure how to handle it, do not be afraid to contact a certified professional dog trainer or an animal behaviorist. The observations you made will be important to give this professional background as they formulate a plan.

Make adjustments to help your dog. If possible, make adjustments to help your dog so that she does not experience separation anxiety. This can be done by adjusting your lifestyle or by enlisting the assistance of others.

If possible, try working from home or bringing your dog to work. If neither of those options are available to you, know that many dogs who suffer from separation anxiety simply do not like to be away from humans, so by dropping your dog off with a friend or relative you trust to watch her while you are at work, or by hiring a dog walker, you can offer your dog comfort in your absence.

When you are not at work, make sure that your dog is not left alone too long, and find activities you can do together as much as possible. Note that some dog trainers might say that spending as much time as possible with your dog can make separation anxiety worse, but if your dog has a severely destructive case, or if you have the option to reduce your dog’s anxiety, it might be the best option for you and your dog.

No one knows your dog like you; do not be afraid to be her advocate and do what you think is best.

How do you stop separation anxiety in dogs?

Do not expect to be able to fully eradicate this behavior, even when you have enlisted the assistance of a professional. Separation anxiety is a complex behavior that is managed over your dog’s life.

The ideal end result is managing the behavior to keep it as minimal as possible; completely eliminating this behavior is unheard of to my knowledge.

Who can help with my dog’s separation anxiety if I’m not sure what to do?

You could begin by finding a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, however, Animal Behaviorists are most likely to be the most effective when dealing with separation anxiety.

If you are unsure where to find these individuals locally, start with this article by the ASPCA to help you find professional assistance.

Additionally, your dog’s veterinarian is a resource that should be utilized. Veterinarians often have recommendations for local dog trainers or behaviorists. Further, in some cases, they may recommend a dog be medicated if the separation anxiety is severe enough.

CBD oil is something to try too. It definitely helps with anxiety.

Closing Considerations

Separation anxiety ranges from mild to severe cases. While mild cases are frequently easily managed, more severe cases might require professional help. The common denominator between all cases is that your dog exhibits specific behaviors when they are separated from you.

By studying your dog’s behavior, you can understand how to help them; sometimes owners can do this independently and other times professional assistance is needed. The daily routine of your life, your reactions, and your behaviors all contribute to the successful management of separation anxiety.

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Cathy Bendzunas with yorkie and yorkie mix

Cathy Bendzunas

Dog Blogger

I have always loved Yorkies and got my first on when I was 19. I bred and showed them back in the 80’s. Though I love other breeds too, Yorkshire Terriers will always be my first love. I have lived and worked with dogs all my life.

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