Separation Anxiety | Signs, Symptoms and Solutions

Separation anxiety is an extremely traumatic experience. It usually occurs in dogs when a dog is separated from their owner for an extended period of time. Dogs are social animals thus, at times, they find it hard to adapt to isolation. In this post we detail the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety, possible causes and how to overcome separation anxiety.

Signs Of Separation Anxiety:

  • Your dog urinates and/or defecates when left alone.
  • Eating all or some of their own defecation. 
  • Your dog barks/howls consistently when left alone, they do not do this otherwise.
  • Chew anything in sight, digging and causing destruction. This can lead to broken teeth, cut or scraped paws. 
  • Your dog tries to escape the area they are left in. 
  • Walking, trotting or pacing around in a repetitive motion (in circles or back and forth in straight lines).
  • All of these behaviours are only signs of separation anxiety if they are not typical behaviours for your dog.
  • If your dog shows any of the above signs it is important to bring them to your vet for a medical check. 
  • Some of the above may be signs of boredom (particularly in puppies), this should not be mistaken for separation anxiety.
separation anxiety - boredom
separation anxiety - loneliness

Causes of Separation Anxiety:

  • Change of owner: this may be a result of being abandoned, sold, placed in a shelter or given to a new family.
  • Change in schedule: a change in the owners schedule impacts on the dog. They become accustomed to your schedule and when you are at home so any change may cause them stress. If a family member suddenly moves away this may also have an impact on their routine.
  • Change of address: if the family moves home, your dog may experience anxiety as the surroundings are no longer familiar.

Overcoming Separation Anxiety:

There are a number of techniques used to overcome separation anxiety, depending on the severity of the separation anxiety.

Mild Separation Anxiety:

Association: One technique which works particularly well is to train your pooch to associate your leaving with something positive. If you are leaving your dog alone, you could try giving them a toy or a treat before you leave. The item you use should be reserved for this purpose only so that they associate it with being left alone. 

A Kong Toy filled with treats works well. As it takes some time for your dog to figure out how to get the treats out, it serves as a great distraction. Often, by the time they have finished with the toy, they have forgotten you left.

Upon your return, take away the toy/treat you gave your dog prior to your departure. This will ensure your dog associates it with your leaving. Overtime he will begin to see your leaving as a positive (as it means he gets toys or treats!).

Dog chewing Kong Toy
Dog playing with Kong Toy

Severe Separation Anxiety

Overcoming severe separation anxiety requires time, patience and a lot of love. In severe cases, your dog may become stressed and anxious even before you leave the home. Your dog will notice signs that you are about to leave (grabbing your keys, putting on your coat or shoes), which result in stress and anxiety. To overcome this they are a number of steps to follow:

  • Start slow when working with your dog to overcome separation anxiety. 
  • Leave your dog alone in a room for a brief period (2-3 seconds) and close the door. When you return allow your dog to calm down before embracing or speaking to them. Repeat this process for 7 - 10 days.
  • Once your dog is comfortable with you leaving the room for brief periods, extend the length of time. Try leaving your dog alone in the room for 10, 20 and 30 seconds, gradually increasing the length of time you spend apart.
  • After a few days try leaving your home through your front door, wait 5 minutes, then come back in.
  • Gradually increase the length of time you are out of the house, remember to use Kong Toys filled with treats for distractions.
  • Always give your dog time to calm down once you return to the house.
  • When you leave the house don't draw attention to your departure, leave calmly and discretely. Say goodbye to your dog if you wish but don't exaggerate your departure.
  • Crates can be helpful during the training phase. They can be a comfort to a dog, acting as a 'safe place' whilst you are gone.
  • If your dog has severe separation anxiety, do not leave them alone during the training process. Always arrange for someone to be present with the dog while they are displaying separation anxiety symptoms.
  • Overcoming severe separation anxiety is a long process and cannot be done overnight. There may be times when you feel you are not making any progress, don't be discouraged, it's all about patience.
  • Never punish your dog for displaying symptoms of separation anxiety. Remember they are upset and will become even more upset if you punish them.

If you think your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety please contact your local Petworld Store where our helpful and knowledgeable staff will be happy to help and answer and questions you may have. If the problem persists, please be sure to contact your local vet and seek medical advice.