Separation anxiety happens when a dog gets anxious when left alone. It is a serious condition and the leading cause of owners giving their dogs away to a rescue or the pound, however, there are many things you can do to help your pet get used to being left alone.
What causes your dog anxiety?
Moving from a shelter home - research show rescued dogs are more likely to develop separation anxiety.
Change of ownership- a major change like this can be a trigger.
Change of residence- moving can be stressful for humans as well as their pets.
Change in routine -even when life changes happen, vets and dog trainers recommend keeping the schedule as normal as possible.
Loss of a family member- life altering change can be a trigger.
Being left alone- needs to be gradual and when they are ready. We explain more below.
Dog breeds with the worst separation anxiety
In general dogs with the worse separation anxiety are the breeds that love their humans and have a harder time being alone. They need to be around people and are very sensitive.
No wonder the Frenchie is one of the breeds with the worst separation anxiety. The French Bulldog was bred to be a lovable lap dog, it is within their genes to want to be around their humans at all times. Other breeds with similar characteristics may include: Toy Poodle, Bichon Frise, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Cocker Spaniel etc.
High energy dogs
The Border Collie rank extremely intelligent of all breeds. For this reason they can get bored easily without mental stimulation. In addition Collies are high energy dogs and leaving them alone for long periods of time can lead to destructive behavior. Other breeds with similar characteristics may include: Jack Russell Terrier, Afghan Hound, Collie, German Pinscher, Boxer etc.
The Labrador Retriever is a very outgoing and social breed, which makes them struggle when left alone for long periods of time. They need time dedication and a lot of physical activities with their favorite human. The German Shepherd is much similar to the retriever. They do extremely well with mentally stimulating environment since they aim to please and are working dogs. Other breeds with similar characteristics may include: Australian Shepherd, Akita, Chinook etc.
Vizsla were bred to hunt with their humans. No physical activity can lead to destructive behavior and anxiety. Other breeds with similar characteristics may include: German Shorthaired Pointer, Great Dane, American Foxhound, Pointer etc.
Common Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Urinating and Defecating - when they are housebroken. Another sign is consuming all or some of their excrement.
Barking and Howling - triggered by being left alone and in excess.
Destructive behavior- chewing, digging, ripping items etc when their owner is not present.
Escaping a confined area-occurs only when left alone. Tip: anxious dogs can cause damage to themselves by trying to escape a confined area or getting their collar caught. They are also very destructive and will chew on everything.It is highly recommended you use indestructible breakaway buckles to avoid / minimize injuries or accidents.
Pacing - in an obsessive pattern.
Drooling or panting - more than usual.
How do you stop separation anxiety in dogs?
Talk to your vet- to rule out any medical problems.
Provide mental and physical stimulation - on a daily basis. Give your dog food puzzle toys, plenty of exercise, play with your pooch often, and visit the off leash nearby dog park (if your dog is well socialized). You can get involved in dog shows/competitions, you can take your dog on hikes and trails, provide water aerobics and much more...
Crate training - from young age can be very helpful. Dogs associate the crate as their safe zone. Crate them when you are home as well so they do not associate the crate with you leaving.
Counter conditioning- the process of changing the way the dog's feelings from anxious to relaxed and done by associating new good experiences in anxiety triggered moments. When leaving try offering your dog a food puzzle or a Kong that will take a while to finish. Your dog will soon associate your absence with some delicious treat and the anxiety will diminish slowly. Tip: in the summertime you can freeze the Kong with the foods inside to provide a cool snack that will also take longer to eat.
Desensitization- gradually accustom your pooch of being alone for short time spans. Then gradually increase the duration of those separations. View this exercise as a peekaboo game. Go out of your front door close the door then come back in after a few seconds (prior to the dog showing any anxiety). Do this exercise several times daily. Increase the seconds by 10 seconds each time your dog did well. When you come back in reward your dog with a treat if they did well. In weeks your dog should be able to handle 30 minutes or so. It is important to mention every dog is different and may be able to catch on faster or slower, the most important thing is persistence. Make a habit of rewarding your dog every time you enter your home. This way your dog will be thinking of the treat you will give him/her when returning home rather than your absence.
Desensitize trigger points - as mentioned above you need to eliminate triggers such as putting shoes on, coat, grabbing keys. These are all triggers that might attribute to the anxiety. You need to do the same things as you are leaving without actually going so your dog doesn't associate your absence with doing any of the above.
No goodbyes - do not hug and kiss your dog goodbye as this can cause more anxiety.
Smell - leave a T-shirt that smells like you in their area. This will provide some comfort.
Medications - this should be the last resort. Always consult with your vet prior to giving your dog medication. The use of medications can be beneficial in extreme cases of separation anxiety. Before harsh medications are used we would suggest natural calming supplements for pets.
Never lose your patience, never scold or punish a dog that is showing anxiety. If you do the dog might display worse symptoms of anxiety. As always let us know if you have any questions or concerns below.
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