Do you get complaints about your dog barking while you are gone? Does your dog start whining when you leave? Both of these can be signs of separation anxiety in dogs. This article will help you to understand what separation anxiety is, how to diagnose it, and how to manage it. We’ll also discuss strategies for dealing with separation anxiety both behavioral and medicinal.
What causes separation anxiety in dogs?
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a condition where a dog experiences fear or panic when they are left alone. The pup doesn’t know what’s going on and worries that you may not return. Often the anxiety leads to “bad behavior” such as destruction of property, nuisance barking, inappropriate bathroom behavior and occasionally aggression.
Separation anxiety symptoms
Often the early symptoms of separation anxiety are overlooked as a dog that is very happy to see you when you come home. While this is normal behavior, dogs experiencing separation anxiety will often get worse. Their anxiety will grow to the point that you notice the physical manifestations of the anxiety, namely they may start having accidents, increasing their attempts at coming with you or even destroying items in your house.
It’s important to remember that this “bad behavior” is just their way of expressing the deep feelings of anxiety and inner turmoil that they’re experiencing. While you don’t want to encourage the behavior, you certainly don’t want to punish your dog. Your buddy is feeling bad so let’s dive into how we can help the situation and provide some calm.
How is separation anxiety diagnosed?
Diagnosing separation anxiety is relatively easy. It is important to speak to your veterinarian as it is not healthy for your dog to remain in this anxious state and therefore something needs to be done to alleviate some of your dog’s stress.
Often diagnosis involves plenty of talking, it is important to write down everything your dog has been doing and it is usually good to keep this list for at least one week prior to seeing your veterinarian so he can see what behavioral issues there are.
Some incidents, such as accidents in the house, can have other medical conditions which are to blame which is why it is important to have notes stating when these issues occur, how often, and what conditions were involved.
How to help a dog with separation anxiety?
Veterinarians may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to assist in calming down the dog. This could come in the form of a higher dose over a short duration, or a very low dosage to be taken over a longer period of time. These medications often have side effects that need to be carefully considered prior to medicating your dog. Some dogs, particularly older dogs, should not be given these medications due to their already fragile condition. Regardless, chat with your veterinarian and come up with a plan that you both feel comfortable with.
There are some holistic medications that can be used for your pet. One of these medication, Rescue Remedy, is often used for both humans and animals for anxiety issues. These medications are derived from plants and flowers to produce a concentrated mixture which can either be administered in their food, water or through the skin.
Sometimes, separation anxiety does not require medication and this is often the case if you notice the warning signs early and seek immediate health. Changing your routine to allow your dog to know when you will be home and starting off with short trips is often an effective method to getting the dog accustomed to being left alone. Another option is to use toys or to tire your dog out first through a long walk or job.
Tips to ease separation anxiety in dogs
As no pet owner wants to know that every time they leave the house their dog will be upset. This is made even more miserable if the dog is known for destroying the house or barking constantly. It is important to reduce if not eliminate the stress both your dog and you feel when you leave.
To do this there are multiple paths that you can take. Depending on the severity of the anxiety, different control methods may or may not be appropriate. Just as it is not appropriate to sedate someone for getting sweaty palms before a meeting, neither is seeking a strong sedative for your dog who has mild separation anxiety.
There are three main categories for control of your pet’s separation anxiety: Behavioral, Herbal and Prescription medication.
6 Behavioral strategies for dealing with separation anxiety in dogs
There are many things you can do to help your dog become more comfortable with you leaving.
1. Crate training
Crate training is an efficient way to train your dog to remain calm when you need to leave. The dog will naturally associate the crate with their den. Be sure to equip their den with a blanket and a toy in order to give them something to do. When you place them in their crate, the dog will often lie down and stay quiet for the duration you are gone. Another thing the crate will help with is for dogs who are destructive. This will keep them safe and will also keep your house safe as they can not access your furniture or any other objects which can be destroyed.
2. Doggy Daycare
Another option is doggy daycare. The dog will not be alone, they will be played with and will be permitted socialization. This is a very effective solution although it can be quite costly. Sometimes you will find a friend who is a stay-at-home mom or retired and at home all day who would like to watch your dog while you are at work. This is usually a cheaper option and your dog will get more one on one attention.
Occasionally dogs enjoy having music or the TV on for background noise so that they are not in a silent house which makes it much more apparent that they are alone.
4. Practice leaving for short periods of time
By practicing leaving and coming back calmly you can prove to your dog that you will always come home. Avoid petting your dog or making a big deal of either your coming or your going to prevent them from getting excited. This will help to keep them calm. Once they are good with 5 minutes of alone time, you can extend it to 10-15 minutes. Eventually your dog should be fine to be left on their own for extended periods without barking or destructive behavior.
Dogs understand routine and if you leave at the same time every day they will slowly realize that you also come home at the same time every day. This will provide your dog with confidence and enforce the fact that you will come home. Most dogs will stop displaying the unwanted behaviors after this has been learned.
Toys are a great way to distract your dog. They will prevent boredom and people have found that a Kong toy filled with peanut butter will keep your dog focused and entertained for hours of alone time. This is a form of distraction and is highly effective with food or toy oriented dogs.
Natural remedies for dog anxiety
There are many holistic and herbal remedies that can help take the edge off of your dog’s anxiety. It is important to talk to a naturopath to obtain the correct dosage and preparation. As with any form of medication, even from a natural source, if it is used incorrectly it may have unwanted side effects.
Some commonly used herbal remedies are:
- Avena Sativa (Oatstraw)
- Calcarea phosphorica (Calcium Phosphate)
- Chamomila (German chamomile)
- Gelsemium (Yellow Jasmine)
- Kava Kava
- Passiflora (Passion Flower)
- Pulsatilla nigicans (Pasque-flower)
- Scutellaria (Skullcap)
Anxiety medication for dogs
There are many medications that can help your dog deal with separation anxiety. Keep in mind that they are not all created equal. It is important to have a close relationship with your veterinarian so that they can properly monitor your dog’s levels and ensure that your dog is receiving the correct dosage. This should be a last approach as these medications can often have negative side effects and should only be used for severe separation anxiety.
Some commonly used medications for anxiety include:
Regardless of what causes separation anxiety, it is never a fun condition for either the owner or the dog. This is why it’s important to recognize the warning signs and to carefully avoid them while building up trust between you and your dog. The feelings of trust and confidence that your dog has for you will go a long way to reducing their anxiety levels.