Is your dog suffering with separation anxiety?

Does your dog bark non stop as soon as you leave the house for work, tear and chew the house up when you’re gone, or regularly use the middle of the kitchen/ living room floor to go to the toilet? If the answer is ‘yes’ then he might be suffering from separation anxiety.

Most dogs would choose to spend all of their time in our company but unfortunately that’s near impossible!  If you experience the above on a daily basis, there could be a chance your pup is suffering from separation anxiety – however separation anxiety is very different from misbehaviour, and misbehaviour is likely to be the case for many dog owners – so it’s important to understand the difference.

How do you know if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety?

There is true separation anxiety, and there is simulated separation anxiety (misbehaviour), where your dog might appear to have separation anxiety but it is, in fact, a learned behaviour. Simulated separation anxiety is often when the dog lacks leadership as well as self-control. True separation anxiety, on the other hand, causes the dog to experience real stress during the absence of his owner.

In simulated separation anxiety, the dog knows that he will get attention if he acts badly. In these cases, there is little real stress involved, just misbehaviour. This is fairly easy to overcome, slowly increasing the amount of time spent in a dog crate – when you are at home as well as away – consistent obedience training, proper amounts of exercise, and strong leadership.

Dog separation anxiety is different and can be caused by a number of incidents including:

  • The dog has never been left alone in the home regularly or separated from a particular person
  • There is something that the dog is scared of or worried by either inside the house or outside. This could be something that happens on a daily basis (e.g when someone rings the doorbell) or something that happened only once (e.g a severe thunderstorm or fireworks). Dogs tend to feel much more vulnerable when they are on their own, so it is easy for them to develop specific fears.
  • Being abandoned, brought up in a shelter or given to a new guardian or family can trigger the development of separation anxiety.
  • An animal companion dies. Normally this would be another dog who shared a close bond with the dog who is left behind.
  • Moving to a new home.

Signs of separation anxiety in dogs are:

  • Fearfulness
  • Clinginess
  • Hyperactivity
  • Barking
  • Destroying objects
  • Urinating inappropriately
  • Depression or aggressive behaviour

Thankfully separation anxiety is preventable if you’re starting with a puppy. The key is teaching him that leaving him alone actually means good things — the goal is for him to associate your departure with something positive.

Ways to overcome separation anxiety:

  • Hide small treats around the house or in his crate. Make sure his favourite toys are tucked safely in places he knows to search. This gives him something to do while you’re gone and helps eliminate boredom.
  • A dog crate can be an effective tool. Dogs who’ve been properly introduced to their crate tend to feel safe and secure.
  • Tire him out – make sure he receives plenty of exercise and that he gets lots of time with you. When you do leave, he’ll be more content to sleep.

However if you think your dog has a severe case of separation anxiety, then it’s best to seek professional help from your vet as the underlying issues may be more complex.