Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Let us paint you a picture: It’s been a long day at work, you’re exhausted and ready to be home. You walk in the door, greeted by your favorite furry friend and that is when it hits you. Your living room has been turned upside down, the house has few new funky smells, and the fluff of your newly purchased couch had all been torn out. It’s a disaster! You’re ready to lose it, but how can you get mad at their cute puppy eyes when all they ever wanted was someone to play with?

This scenario happens every day, all over the world, but why?

When you leave the house, it is common that your dog will show signs of distress due to separation anxiety. Dogs are social, loyal creatures, many of whom constantly need attention and want to play. This is especially true when they are at a young age. Many dogs in the shelter have once been abandoned or surrendered, which often leads to a higher chance of them experiencing separation anxiety. They are afraid of being left alone again. But don’t worry, there are several ways to decrease their anxiety by making them feel more comfortable when you’re unavailable. We’re not saying these problems can be solved overnight, but rather over time and consistent effort, you can change these behaviors.  

Signs of Separation Anxiety

·         Escaping: Came home to scratched doors, broken fences, or chewed up windows? Dogs will try to escape when they’re bored or in need of attention. When they’re in a confined area and have a limited space to play, they’ll have the urge to escape. Puppies, especially have the most energy and want to play, they’ll do anything to leave! Try to secure the area, because escaping can result in terrible consequences, such as having a loose dog, or if an aggressive dog attacks the neighbors.

·         Destructive chewing: Damaged furniture? Still can’t find the left pair of your favorite shoes? Dogs love to chew, and one way for them to cope is to bite on household items. Excessive chewing can cause ruptured teeth, and it isn’t good for your dog’s jaw! You might want to provide them with some toys or rawhides before heading out of the house.

·         Urinating and defecating: If your dog is potty trained, but is still leaving his droppings around the house, he is showing signs of distress due to separation anxiety. To prevent accidents from spoiling the house, purchase dog potty pads and place them in spacious areas.

·         Increased Vocalizations: Your dog will howl, bark or whine after you leave their presence. They will be more agitated and sensitive to sounds.

Now that we have the symptoms identified, let’s look at ways to prevent the causes of separation anxiety:

·         Morning walk/ jog: Take them on a walk before leaving the house. This will not only be great exercise for you, but for your dog too! Spend about 20-30 minutes in the morning and take a stroll around the neighborhood. This allows you to spend some time with your dog, and burn some excess energy.

·         Toys! Interactive dog toys can keep your dog, especially intelligent working breeds, distracted for hours. It gives them a unique challenge that can stimulate them mentally, and can help lower their energy build up. Puzzle toys such as a Kong are durable and very satisfying for them to chew. Simply stuff treats inside the toy, give it to your dog right before you leave the house, and you’re good to go!

·         Rawhide: Enough with the shoes, and pillow stuffings all over the living room! Well, one of a dog’s natural instincts is to chew. Rawhides are one of the most popular dog chews, which are made from the hide of cows or horses. Dogs can spend hours chewing on them, which will keep them busy while you’re out. This can also prevent dental diseases; the repetitive chewing can scrape off the buildup of plaque on the surface of their teeth. These treats will not only freshen your dog’s breath, but keep your couch in one piece as well!

·         Consistency, consistency, consistency: You have routines, they should have routines. If possible, try to feed and exercise your dog the same time every day. Create a schedule of when you’ll be giving them extra attention. It will let your dog know that even if you’re busy sometimes, you’ll always spare some time just for him when you can.

·         Adopt another dog: It may sound crazy, but getting your dog a companion at home may ease the separation anxiety. They’ll keep each other company while you’re out.

·         Enter/ leave the house calmly. Giving your dog extra attention when you leave can trigger some emotions. Try to leave discreetly without notice. When you come home, greet them lightly and wait until they have calmed down. Your dog is keenly aware of your emotions, so if you are sad, or nervous, or excited they will be too. So, if you’re dog is highly reactive, make sure you monitor your emotional responses as well.

Here are some related articles that you may find helpful:

Five Ways to Help Your Dog Cope With Time Away from You”, akc.org

Separation Anxiety in Dogs”, pets.webmd.com

Winnie Goh