Dog separation anxiety

Dog separation anxiety

Dogs are naturally social and crave companionship - this is why they get along so well with us. Leaving a dog alone can be difficult: If he's not taught how to handle being alone, it can lead to separation-related problems commonly known as separation anxiety, separation stress, or fear of being alone.

Read on to identify common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs and find out how you can help them overcome it with our useful guide.

Why do dogs get separation anxiety?

Often dog owners believe that their dog's behavior when left alone is an expression of annoyance or ill-manneredness, however, it is simply fear. Separation anxiety in dogs occurs when they have not been taught the necessary coping strategies to deal with time alone. To get a better idea of the feeling, you can compare it to a human panic attack.

It is incredibly difficult to deal with a dog that cannot be left alone. In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult behavioral disorders for dogs to overcome. However, as with many behavioral problems, prevention is much better than cure, which is why you should train your pup from the start.

In most cases, this fear manifests itself in the puppy from the beginning. Owners are so excited about their new puppy that they are happy when it wants to follow them everywhere. Of course, this bond is crucial, but if you allow him to be with you all the time, it is also what your puppy will expect throughout life. Then, if you suddenly leave him alone, the dog's world will collapse without you.

Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs

Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs vary from mild to extreme and can include the following:

  • Excessive barking and/or howling when leaving the room.
  • Chewing on objects and other undesirable behaviors
  • Loss of housetraining
  • Scratching at doors
  • Romping across "tables and benches".
  • Excessive panting and salivation
  • Attempts to escape
  • (Auto)aggressive behavior


Getting rid of separation anxiety in dogs from the beginning

Let your canine realize that he can consider you

From the minute you take your dog home, he needs to learn that he can trust you to be there for him. But there are also times when he can't always be with you - and that's perfectly fine. Get your dog used to this by going into another room and leaving him alone for a few minutes. Preferably with a fun distraction, like his dinner or a treat.

Don't make a huge deal out of it

Just leave quietly and return to your dog without much fuss. Make your comings and goings a natural part of life from the start, and make the dog feel that not being with you every minute is not a disaster.

Approach slowly

You should slowly start leaving your puppy alone for five minutes, then 10 minutes, then 30 minutes. Increase this until you are absent for an hour. But always make sure to take the training slowly and with care.

Toys or treats for separation anxiety

Keep your dog occupied with something that will distract him from your absence in a completely safe area where he feels comfortable. At best, if you give the dog something tasty to occupy himself with, he may even see your absence as something positive that he actually looks forward to. Use food balls filled with his favorite snacks or toys.

Use technology

Set up a webcam at home with an app so you can watch your dog on your smartphone while you're away. That way, you'll have peace of mind that your dog is doing well.

You've now taught your dog that it's safe to be alone. But remember that dogs need companionship and social contact, and no dog is happy if he's going to be left alone for hours on a regular basis!

 Treat separation anxiety in dogs

It's easier to prevent dog separation anxiety than to deal with an existing problem. Here's what helps adult dogs who suffer from separation anxiety:

  1. Start with the basics first. How does your puppy handle time away from you? Keep the moments of separation from you as short as possible during this training phase. Your dog is best not left alone in general yet, so you may need a pet sitter or friend to help you with this.
  2. When you start leaving your pup alone at times, build up the intervals very slowly - and use a webcam so you know your dog is relaxed.
  3. Leave him alone with a safe, interactive toy (such as a stuffed food ball) and with the radio or TV on.
  4. Make sure your dog is tired when you leave him. Unlike an underutilized bundle of energy, he is more likely to simply fall asleep. It's best to walk him enough beforehand or engage him in an exciting game.
  5. Don't make a big fuss about whether you're going or coming back. This way, you convey to your dog that coming and going is something natural.
  6. Try to vary your goodbye routine so your dog doesn't get used to it and fear your leaving already.
  7. If your dog has a more serious separation-related problem, you should ask your veterinarian, or contact an accredited behaviorist to help you work out a therapeutic approach to overcome the problem.

Before acquiring, realize that dogs are social animals. If you often have to leave your dog alone for long periods of time, it's best to rethink whether getting a dog is really a good idea.

For more tips and tricks on how to keep your dog from exhibiting bad behaviors, read our in-depth guide on how to break puppies of snapping, nibbling, and jumping. If you're getting a new puppy, check out our guide to welcoming your new puppy home, too!

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