When pet owners decide to take a dog, they don’t always think about the time it costs to have one. One of the critical behavioural problems in dogs is separation anxiety.
We can make a distinction between dogs with genuine separation anxiety and dogs that cannot be at home alone. Dogs with separation anxiety often can’t be home alone, but that’s not to say that all dogs who can’t stay at home are anxious.
Fear of abandonment is not only an impairment of the well-being of the dog, but this problem can also cause annoying situations for the owner.
Causes of separation anxiety in puppies and dogs
Many different conditions can cause a dog to develop separation anxiety. Often dogs that have been (repeatedly) relocated or have been in a shelter for a while have anxiety. Even when a dog is very dependent on the owner and insecure, this welfare problem lurks.
Finally, separation anxiety can develop when a dog has had a traumatic experience while at home alone.
Symptoms of separation anxiety in puppies and dogs
The dog’s behaviour depends on the severity of the fear. Some dogs squeak and bark when the boss is away, causing trouble with the neighbours.
Sometimes they are also extremely restless, run back and forth, and therefore urinate or defecate in the house. In many cases, the dog indeed calms down quite quickly when he hears the owner come home.
Then it seems as if there are no problems, but nothing could be further from the truth! The opposite can also be the case: it is noticeable that the dog is exceptionally enthusiastic when the owner returns home.
Departure & homecoming
It is essential to leave and come home as calmly as possible. In either case, try not to pay attention to the dog so that you are showing that leaving and returning home is completely normal.
For example, if you hug the dog extensively shortly before departure, it may get the idea that something special is about to happen. Also, it is essential to give the dog a few departure signals as possible.
Leaving a radio on can be a good idea, turning the radio on every time you leave home can become a departure signal for the dog. In the long run, it will become restless when you walk to the radio!
Try to make sure the dog is in a calm state of mind before you leave. If the dog is restless at the time of departure, this will certainly not improve if you are away from home.
Finally, the dog must be walked well before leaving. Preferably, you do some exercises or play a game before you go. A tired dog is more likely to lie quietly.
How can separation anxiety in dogs be tackled?
These kinds of behavioural problems are not easy to solve, primarily because the problem behaviour occurs when the boss is not present. It is impossible to intervene at the moment. Several aspects need to be addressed.
For example, the dog must be trained to initially ensure that the dog experiences its environment (the home) as familiar.
You must return home before the dog becomes anxious or stressed. When the dog is in your vicinity, you should provide clear and consistent leadership so that the dog learns to trust you.
How to train a dog with separation anxiety?
The first step is to find the threshold for separation; that is where your training needs to begin.
How to find your dog’s threshold for separation?
- Set up a camera and leave the house (Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime are free apps that you can use).
- Use a timer as you close the door, and walk far enough so that your dog cannot hear or see you.
- Watch for signs like pacing, circling, whining, barking, howling, jumping on the door, urination, licking, and others that indicate discomfort or fear.
- Give the dog enough time to reveal a full range of behavior while you take detailed notes.
Now that you know the threshold of your dog, you can start to gradually train him to separation.
Start practicing leaving the house and coming back for variable periods of time, but not longer than 30mins total.
Here’s an example for day 1:
- Open the door, do not step outside, then close it and walk away.
- Open the door, step outside, close it behind you, then immediately go back in.
- Walk to the door and turn the doorknob without opening it. Then release it and walk away.
Between these episodes, pause for few minutes to do something “natural” like washing a dish, for example. In the meantime, do not give your dog too much attention; this doesn’t mean you need to completely ignore him. But starting a play session can make the next step more challenging.
A major step in desensitizing dogs is doing little actions before you walk out the door, known as the pre-departure cues like putting on your shoes or picking up the keys.
These cues may frighten your dog more, so make sure to add only one per day so you can find those that trigger his anxiety.
Moving forward in training for separation anxiety in dogs depends on the severity of the symptoms, the age, and breed of the dog. Every dog is an individual, so remember to move at your dog’s pace.
How long does it take?
As we just mentioned, each dog is different, so it is impossible to predict how long it will take; the most important thing is to know that training is not a straight line. But, what we’re looking for is gradual improvements over time.
Is there a way to speed up the process?
Absolutely! Here are 3 must-have items for training dogs with separation anxiety.
A lack of comfortable, good sleep can lead to all kinds of physical and mental health problems. However, many times this can simply be solved with a better night’s rest, and that’s where a Calming Pet Bed comes in.
It’s a square calming dog bed designed to help with anxiety; it is super-soft, with rims that provide a greater sense of security for a happier and healthier life.
When pads are not enough, a weighted anxiety vest that swaddles your dog and makes him feel safe while you are away can be a real game-changer. It is easy-to-wear and made of high-quality fabric with a certain degree of elasticity to give your dog a continuous sense of tightness.