When we leave our dogs alone, they can often experience distress that goes beyond a simple case of missing their human companions. This distress is commonly referred to as separation anxiety, a condition that affects a significant number of dogs in the UK. In a 2022 study conducted by PDSA, "11% of dogs (1.1 million) are showing signs of distress when left alone".
Recognising the signs of separation anxiety in your dog is crucial for addressing their emotional well-being. By understanding these signs, you can take the necessary steps to alleviate your dog's anxiety.
How to identify separation anxiety in dogs
Separation anxiety in dogs can manifest in various ways, and recognising the signs is the first step towards helping your furry friend. Here are some key points to consider when identifying separation anxiety in your dog:
Common destructive behaviours in dogs include chewing furniture, scratching doors or walls, and excessive digging. These behaviours are not indicative of disobedience or spitefulness; instead, they are manifestations of your dog's distress and attempts to alleviate their anxiety.
Dogs with separation anxiety can vocalise in different ways, including excessive barking, howling, whining, or whimpering. These vocalisations serve as expressions of your dog's anxiety and can be a means to seek attention or communicate with you. Recognising these vocalisations is crucial in understanding the emotional distress experienced by your dog and addressing the underlying separation anxiety effectively.
Pre-departure anxiety is a common symptom of separation anxiety in dogs. As you go through your departure routine, your furry companion may exhibit signs of distress, such as pacing, panting, or excessive salivation, indicating that they are anticipating your departure and are already feeling anxious about being left alone.
Overexcitement upon your return
While it may seem like a positive sign, excessive excitement when you come home can be a sign of separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety often become excessively thrilled upon your return as a way to cope with the distress they experience when you're away. Your dog may express their excitement by jumping up, barking, spinning in circles, or uncontrollable tail wagging.
Drooling is a physiological response in dogs experiencing separation anxiety. When dogs are anxious or stressed, their salivary glands can become overactive, resulting in excessive drooling. This increased drooling reflects their emotional distress and can be observed when they anticipate you leaving or when they are left alone.
By being attentive to these behavioural cues, you can gain valuable insights into your dog's emotional state and take the necessary steps to alleviate their separation anxiety. With patience, understanding, and appropriate interventions, you can help your furry companion find comfort and security even when you're not by their side.
What to do if your dog has separation anxiety?
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, there are several steps you can take to help them overcome their distress and build their confidence. Here are some effective strategies to consider:
Gradual desensitisation and counter-conditioning
Gradually expose your dog to being alone by practising short departures and gradually increasing the duration over time as they become more at ease. Pair your departures with positive experiences by offering special toys or high-value rewarding dog treats they only receive when you leave. This helps your dog create positive associations with your absence as they learn that being alone is not a threat and builds their confidence.
Create a calm environment
Designate a safe space for your dog, such as a peaceful room or a crate, where they can seek solace and feel secure when you're not around. Enhance your dog's comfort by including familiar items like their cherished toys or a piece of clothing with your scent. Remarkably, studies have shown that dogs can recognise and positively associate with the scent of their human companions. This is because a familiar human scent activates a part of the dog's brain associated with positive expectations.
Establish confidence in your dog
Implement a consistent daily routine and incorporate mental and physical enrichment activities to help alleviate anxiety and build your dog's confidence. Mentally stimulating your dog's brain with puzzle toys, interactive games, regular exercise, and obedience training. These activities calm and tire your dog both mentally and physically. These activities can also help to make your dog feel more secure when they're left alone.
Seek professional help
Consult with a veterinarian or a professional dog behaviourist to develop a customised plan for your dog's specific needs. They can provide expert guidance, recommend techniques, and, if necessary, prescribe medication to manage severe cases of separation anxiety.
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Frequently Asked Questions
When does separation anxiety in dogs start?
Separation anxiety in dogs can develop at various stages of their lives. Whilst it can affect dogs of any age or breed, it often begins during puppyhood or when significant changes occur in their environment. The most common age range for separation anxiety to emerge is between 6 months to 2 years old.
During this critical period, puppies may experience separation anxiety due to their attachment to their primary caregivers and lack of exposure to being alone. They may become distressed when separated from their human family members or left alone in unfamiliar surroundings.
However, it's essential to note that separation anxiety can also develop later in life, especially if a dog experiences significant changes or traumatic events. Examples include:
The loss of a family member or companion animal.
A move to a new home.
A sudden change in routine or household dynamics.
My dog's separation anxiety is getting worse.
Yes, it is normal for a puppy to engage in play fighting with an older dog. Play fighting is a natural part of a dog's social development and helps them learn important social cues and boundaries.
It also provides an outlet for their energy and promotes physical coordination. However, ensuring the play remains friendly, balanced, and safe is essential. Consider both dogs' size and energy levels and supervise the play fighting to prevent accidents or injuries. Observe their body language for signs of relaxation and engagement. Take into account the age and health of the older dog, allowing them to take breaks if needed.
Remember to actively supervise the play sessions and intervene if either dog seems overwhelmed or it becomes too rough. If you have concerns or the play shows signs or escalates into real aggression, seek guidance from a professional dog trainer or behaviourist.
How do I get my dog to stop crying when I leave the room?
To help your dog stop crying when you leave the room, gradually teach them that your departures are nothing to be anxious about.
Follow the effective strategies under "What to do if your dog has separation anxiety" in this blog.
It is essential to avoid reinforcing anxious behaviour by not excessively comforting them when they cry. Instead, reward them with their favourite dog treats or verbally praise them when they remain calm. If the crying persists, seek guidance from a professional dog trainer or behaviourist. Remember, patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement are key to helping your dog feel more at ease when you leave the room.
Can separation anxiety in dogs be treated with medication?
In some instances, such as moderate to more severe cases, separation anxiety in dogs can be treated with medication. However, medication will not cure your dog's anxiety.
Medication is typically used to facilitate behaviour modification techniques and training. Your veterinarian will prescribe the most suitable medication for your dog. The medication will help alleviate your dog's anxiety and promote a calmer state of mind, which in turn should decrease a dog's physical response to stress.
Is it possible for separation anxiety in dogs to go away?
With appropriate interventions and consistent efforts, separation anxiety in dogs can be managed and significantly improved. Whilst it may not completely go away in all cases, many dogs can learn to cope with their anxiety and experience reduced symptoms.
Dogs can develop a sense of comfort and confidence when left alone through training, behaviour modification techniques, and creating a secure environment. Following the strategies mentioned earlier in the blog, you can start helping your dog's separation anxiety.
Seeking professional guidance from a certified dog behaviourist or trainer can also greatly assist in developing an effective treatment plan. Remember, each dog is unique, and the severity of separation anxiety can vary, but with patience and consistent support, positive progress can be made to improve your dog's well-being.