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How to Help Your Dog With Separation Anxiety

February 10, 2021

How to Help Your Dog With Separation Anxiety

Some dogs can lash out or cause harm to themselves when left alone due to an overwhelming feeling of separation anxiety. Here are some signs to look out for and some ways to manage your dog’s anxiety.

 

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Dogs express separation anxiety in a wide variety of ways once their owner leaves them alone. The following symptoms could indicate that your dog may have separation anxiety:

  • Urinating and defecating in the house: For some dogs, being alone can cause them to have an accident. Some dogs will also defecate and then consume all or some of their excrement once they are left alone. If they do this in front of people, it probably isn’t an indicator of separation anxiety.  
  • Chewing and destruction: Some dogs express their separation anxiety by destroying things in the home. While this is damaging to your belongings, it could also result in injury to your dog. 
  • Barking and/or howling: When your dog begins barking and howling without being triggered by anything, it may be a sign that they have separation anxiety. 
  • Escaping: Separation anxiety can also take the form of your dog attempting to escape by digging or chewing at doors and windows. This can result in injury to your dog when they’re left alone. 

Before assuming your dog has separation anxiety, consider other factors that may contribute to these actions, like medications, boredom, and incomplete house training. Please consult your veterinarian if you believe your dog may have separation anxiety to discuss further options. 



Causes of Separation Anxiety

Similar to humans, every dog is different and can have different events that trigger separation anxiety. Some of the most common triggers include being left alone for the first time, being left alone after becoming accustomed to regular human interaction, undergoing a traumatic event, and a change in routine. 


Treatment for Mild Separation Anxiety

If your dog is showing signs of a mild case of separation anxiety, you should consider counterconditioning to lessen their anxiety. Counterconditioning is a process that involves shifting your dog’s fearful and anxious feelings to a more calm and relaxed state through association. 


In order to successfully countercondition your dog, begin to associate being alone with positive things, like food and toys. Consider leaving your dog with a stuffed toy or puzzle that will take them at least twenty minutes to finish. Make sure to take these toys away once you return so your dog makes the connection between these special toys and being alone. 



Treatment for Moderate to Severe Separation Anxiety

More moderate and severe cases of separation anxiety require a more intense and complex training and treatment program. Desensitization and counterconditioning can be difficult to carry out and could require a trained professional. 


Begin by teaching your dog that you’re not leaving every time you grab your keys or your jacket. Practice getting ready to leave and then staying home to indicate to your dog that there is no need to get anxious when they see you get your keys. Keep in mind that your dog may need to spend days or weeks experiencing these fake cues before their anxiety is lessened. 


Once your dog is more comfortable with the usual cues that you’re leaving, consider exposing your dog to very short departures. These could be as simple as going into another room and closing the door, starting with very short absences and working up to longer periods of time. This process takes a lot of time and won’t happen overnight, so make sure to stay patient and consistent before you start seeing results. 


Consider Medication 

For very severe cases of separation anxiety, consider talking to your veterinarian about options for medication for your dog. It can help your dog tolerate some isolation without experiencing anxiety and can assist in the treatment and training process.



Be Patient

This treatment won’t work overnight, so it is crucial to maintain a positive attitude and stay patient. The symptoms of separation anxiety are not the result of disobedience or a spiteful dog, but simply your dog responding to distress. Remain patient with them and try not to get frustrated or give up.



Does your dog experience separation anxiety? Tell us about it in the comments below, and follow @campingwithdogs and @myalphapak on Instagram to stay updated on other safety tips for you and your dog!









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