Separation Anxiety

Pete Wedderburn
22nd November 2019 - 3 min read

Dogs with separation anxiety display distress-like responses to being left alone or in the owners’ absence. It’s one of the most common behavioural problems with symptoms ranging from:

  • The destruction of things in the home
  • Eliminating indoors
  • Excessive barking
  • Salivating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Pacing
  • Attempting to escape
dog on red bench in park mouth open

Contributing Factors

There are lots of contributing factors too. Dogs that have spent time in a shelter environment are more likely to have separation-related problems.

Influencing factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Hyper-attachment
  • Sudden change in environment
  • A lack of independence
  • Dog’s personality

This makes it essential to identify the underlying cause, so you can use the appropriate treatment.

Hyper-Attachment

Another indicator that your dog may be hyper-attached and experiences separation anxiety, is that your dog follows you around the house, barking or whining when they’re separated from you in a different room, for example.

Symptoms

Many owners may be unaware that their dog displays symptoms of separation anxiety because they aren’t there to see it and there’s no evidence is destruction or elimination. Your dog may be:

  • Constantly active
  • Pacing
  • Listening for you to come home
  • They might shut-down completely, freeze and panic

The reactions are those of equally stressed dogs, they’re simply showing it in different ways.  To help stay on top of this, it’s important that you understand how your dog behaves when you’re out.

The only real way to do that is to set up a camera that can record your dog’s reaction when you leave and see how, or indeed if, their behaviour adjusts over they settle in time.

camera on a white shelf

Do Not Punish Them

With all of that in mind, it’s important not to punish dogs for destroying items in the house, barking, or eliminating in this situation. They’re already in a state of panic having been left alone. Punishing them will only make them feel more anxious and could make the separation anxiety even worse.

Dogs that experience separation-related problems will pick up on things that suggest you’re going to leave, like putting your shoes or coat on. They can find themselves in a constant state of mild anxiety anticipating your departure, which can lead to chronic psychological and physiological stress and have a serious negative effect on their mental and physical health.

man and woman with boxes moving house

Cues

‘Sham’ departure cues is something that’s discussed online and in forums. The idea is that it will reduce the predictability of departure and suggests that the dog will be less anxious when keys are picked up or shoes are put on but there’s no evidence to support that this is in any way effective. In fact, it may actually increase the dog’s anxiety because of the confusion it creates.

Predictability

Predictability is the best way to help a dog control their stress response. By increasing predictability and having a clear, explicit signal so they understand when you are going to leave, you’ll help alleviate the constant state of anticipation, reducing their anxiety and allowing the dog to achieve a more relaxed state.

Treatment of Separation Anxiety

Treatment of separation anxiety also involves teaching the dog to be more independent using a behavioural modification plan that helps your dog adapt to changing environments.

Anti-Anxiety Medication

  • In some cases, anti-anxiety medication may be required but this would be under the guidance of your veterinary surgeon and behaviourist, so you’ll get all the help and support you need to manage that.

Stimulation

  • Stimulation can also help, distracting your dog, and turning their attention to something other than you.

New Pet Tech

  • There are lots of puzzles, brain games, and great new pet tech that can help, by keeping your dog busy while you’re out.

Talk to your behaviourist before you start spending as they will be able to advise you on what’s appropriate. Not all toys work for all dogs, so it’s important to get something that will keep them entertained as opposed to adding additional frustration or stress.  

Check out the Petfix Store to shop toys that get Pete the Vet’s seal of approval