Updated - Jun 2nd, 2022
Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM.
Smitten new dog parents tend to fall in love with every action their puppies take. So it’s easy to overlook common behavioral issues. How can such a cute animal do anything wrong…ever?
At first, a gentle scratch at the door or a soft whimper from the other room seems like an endearing quirk, but separation anxiety in dogs can quickly turn into a serious issue if left unaddressed. Learn more about how to identify and deal with your dog’s separation anxiety below. It’s time to give your human-canine relationship the structure it needs to support a happy and healthy home for you both!
Dealing with your dog’s separation anxiety
Separation anxiety in dogs is a common behavioral concern that dog parents around the world seek help for. In fact, somewhere between 20% and 40% of all dogs suffer from this disorder. The ubiquity of this issue alleviates the stress level – neither for dogs nor for their parents. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide for determining the symptoms of separation anxiety and finding solutions that are as easy to implement as they are effective. No one wants to see their dog in pain, and – with a little coaching – you don’t have to!
Is separation anxiety in dogs preventable?
How do you prevent or put an end to separation anxiety in dogs? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix or universal cure. That said, proper socialization training early in your dog’s life can significantly reduce or completely eradicate your dog’s separation anxiety before it becomes an ingrained behavior. (We’ll get more into the specifics of training a dog with separation anxiety in a bit.)
For a more short-term method to quell the distress your dog experiences when you’re not around, make sure your four-legged friend gets plenty of exercise throughout the day. If you know that you’ll be leaving the house for a few hours, take some time to wear your dog out by tossing around a ball in the backyard or running them around the block. If your pup expends all of their energy while you’re with them, they will be less likely to worry themselves into a frenzy in your absence.
Common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs
Many symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs seem innocuous at first. But knowing the signs can help you make better judgment calls when it comes to the health of your pet. If your dog is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it could be disguising a more serious issue—one that needs to be addressed. Signs of separation anxiety can include:
Vocalization: Intense howling, crying, or excessive barking once you’re out of sight.
Property Damage: Mild to severe chewing and digging while you are gone. Any destructive chewing or digging that damages floors, walls, furniture, or other property in a significant way.
Escaping: Escapes or attempted escapes from a crate, room, or property. This could appear as a mysterious injury to your dog’s teeth, paws, or claw marks on the inside of a door frame or crate door.
Pacing/Panting: Severe restlessness, panting, or excessive salivation/drooling without exercise while you are gone.
Urinating/Defecating: An otherwise well-trained dog that goes to the bathroom in the house while you’re gone.
The breed of your dog can also play a role in determining your dog’s behavior and offer an indication of whether or not what you’re dealing with is, in fact, separation anxiety. Common dog breeds that regularly experience separation anxiety include:
What else could be causing this behavior?
If your dog is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, especially in isolation, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s suffering from separation anxiety. Dogs, like humans, experience a full range of emotions that come and go. Since our pets can’t communicate using words (mine can’t, at least), a short bout of anxiety, sadness, excitement, or fear might manifest itself as an ‘accident’ in the house or restlessly pacing around the living room.
As a concerned dog parent, being aware of the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs is extremely important. However, what you’re looking for are consistent or severe symptoms that present themselves in tandem with other signs of separation anxiety over an extended period of time and are associated with your absence. Bottom line – One-off accidents are no cause for alarm!
How to deal with dog separation anxiety at home
Staying at home 24/7 isn’t typically possible. Between work, friends, and the myriad other responsibilities that come with being human, there will come a time when leaving your dog to fend for themselves is simply the only option you have left.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you have to leave your pet alone for an extended period of time, there are a couple of relatively simple measures you can take to mitigate their distress or the damage they may cause to your home.
Puppy-Proofing: Turn your laundry room, guestroom, or backyard into a puppy-proof sanctuary! Pet proofing a room with your dog’s separation anxiety in mind will help you guarantee that they won’t be put in a position where they can hurt themselves – keeping them safe and putting your mind at ease while you’re away. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Put away loose wires or electrical equipment. These shouldn’t be within reach of any dog and can even prove fatal for smaller dogs!
- Remove valuables such as furniture, shoes, or anything else you would be upset to see torn to shreds.
- If you’re keeping your dog outside, make sure to seal any gaps in your fence. This may mean blocking potential spots where your dog might try to dig their way under the fence (using spare firewood or larger rocks can often work).
- If you have an in-ground swimming pool, don’t let your pup have access while you’re gone.
- Use a safe, anti-chew dog spray on furniture, flooring, or any areas that you notice your dog might be targeting during their chomping sessions.
- Remove all potentially hazardous or toxic materials from the room. Anything that could pose a choking hazard should be located well outside of your dog’s reach. Additionally, if you’re keeping your dog in the laundry room, dryer sheets and laundry detergent can both be dangerous to ingest.
- Lock up any cabinets or drawers that contain medicine or food.
This is more about damage control than a permanent answer to your problems. A temporary, band-aid-like fix for your dog’s anxiety will help you make sure they don’t injure themselves or the house, while you search for a more long-term solution (i.e. medical attention or professional training). Check out our ultimate new puppy guide for more information on puppy-proofing a room in your house.
At-Home Training: A well-structured training regimen is your best friend (besides your dog) when it comes to reducing your paw pal’s anxiety levels. When a dog parent suffers from anxiety, psychobehavioral therapy can often help soften the effects and get you back on track by training your mind.
In that sense, dogs have more in common with humans than you think! Training – conducted professionally or on your own – is basically therapy for your four-legged friend. Learn more about the specifics of training a dog with separation anxiety below!
How to train a dog with separation anxiety
As mentioned, training your dog can help them overcome their separation anxiety quickly and efficiently. The earlier in your dog’s life you start training the better; but it’s never too late to begin your journey toward a happier and healthier relationship with your pet! Here are a few common training methods that can help you nip your dog’s separation anxiety in the bud.
Crate training: When conducted early in a pet’s life, crate training is one of the most practical and rewarding techniques available to dog owners. Having a dog – especially one with separation anxiety – that sees their crate as a safe and comfortable retreat will make your life so much easier.
It’s important to note that, in some cases, a crate can pose a risk to dogs with separation anxiety. If your dog isn’t crate trained, confining them to a crate without proper training can drastically increase their anxiety levels. Serious injury can easily occur if your puppy makes a desperate attempt to escape from their crate while you’re gone.
Create a routine: In both humans and dogs, a lot of anxiety is borne from a fear of the unknown, or uncertainty about the future. By establishing a daily routine for your pets and incorporating socialization, you can take that uncertainty out of the equation. With a firm schedule in place, their mind will finally stop spinning with possibilities. You’ll notice a calmer, more confident dog!
Use the right reward system: When training any pet, it’s important to build a robust catalog of potential rewards. If you only reward your dog’s good behavior with affection, you’re training them to feel starved of attention without even realizing it. Use toys (a kong filled with peanut butter is my dog’s favorite), treats, and food as a substitute for the classic belly rub. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean you have to throw out the belly rub all together. Mix it up!
Train your dog to respond to cues: By house-training your dog to settle down or sit on command and rewarding them with a treat other than attention, you can train them to calm themselves down with the point of a finger and reduce anxious behaviors at the drop of a hat. Practice mat exercises with a treat or clicker training to gradually increase your dog’s ability to respond to visual or auditory cues over time.
Designated rest area: Designate a specific part of your house or room as your dog’s rest area, where they can nap, sleep, or take a breather after exercise. This can be as formal as a dog bed or as informal as a corner of the room (the more formal the better).
Reward them with a treat every time they effectively use the designated space for a nap or rest, and they will eventually learn to instinctively visit that part of the house whenever they need to calm themselves down.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of training techniques for getting rid of your dog’s separation anxiety, but they will certainly get started on the right track. If you don’t have the time or the resources to implement these techniques, think about hiring a professional trainer or finding a reputable doggy daycare near you. A dog sitter is also a great option when you have to leave for a longer amount of time on short notice.
When to see a vet for separation anxiety
If you’ve attempted to put an end to your dog’s separation anxiety to no avail, it is time to seek professional help. Additionally, if your pup is at risk of harming themselves or inflicting significant damage to your home, you should see a veterinarian immediately.
In general, it’s safe to pay a visit to the vet if you think your dog may have separation anxiety. This will help you rule out any other underlying medical conditions (like Cushing’s disease or neurological conditions) that could be causing anxiety symptoms. It will also provide your vet with an opportunity to prescribe any anti-anxiety medications or recommend other OTC calming aids that may help ease your dog’s suffering. Your vet will be able to provide a training regimen or recommend you to an expert that can help you develop a program that will reduce separation anxiety in your dog. Separation anxiety isn’t solved overnight, and it requires some patience, knowledge, and preparation on your part to help your dog through this rough patch.
Make sure your anxious dog is covered for behavioral issues on your next visit. And the good news is Pumpkin’s dog insurance policy covers behavioral issues.*
What causes separation anxiety in dogs?
It’s important to remember that dogs can develop severe cases of separation anxiety for a number of reasons, but only a few of them are ever the dog parent’s fault. Your dog’s anxiety likely stems from a blend of biological and environmental triggers. Here are some common events that may kick an anxiety disorder into high gear:
- a change in guardianship
- an abusive previous owner
- they came from a shelter or humane society
- a new home or an unfamiliar environment
- a new family member in the household
- a traumatic event, even in puppyhood
- a change in routine where they initially spend a lot of time with their owner and then suddenly less time
Besides breathing, making sure your dog is happy and healthy is likely at the top of your to-do list. Sometimes, a trip to the vet is an unavoidable part of the equation. Second-guessing whether or not you should take your pup to see the vet should never come down to expenses. Luckily, Pumpkin’s dog insurance plans make it easy to save money on your next visit.