If you've ever come home to find your house has been ransacked, you might suspect a break-in, but more often than not, you'll quickly figure out that the culprit was actually your stressed-out pooch. Separation anxiety in dogs can lead to some seriously destructive and dangerous behaviours.
When left alone, your dog might bark, whine, chew on furniture, try to escape, or even express their bowels. While these problems may frustrate you, they can be a sign of separation anxiety, stress, and even depression in dogs, so it's important to treat this problem appropriately.
Here's what you need to know about dog separation anxiety.
Understanding Dog Separation Anxiety
Subtle symptoms of separation anxiety often go unnoticed or are chalked up to bad dog behaviour.
In fact, a study showed that 72.5% of dogs studied showed signs of anxiety-like behaviours, with separation anxiety affecting around 5% of them.
While some dogs are nervous from day one, other dogs learn these behaviours over time. Dog separation anxiety can be triggered by changes to your normal routine, like moving, a new baby, and even a new work schedule.
Separation anxiety is considered a mental health disorder and is defined as “being afraid of being separated from a particular person, persons, or even a pet”.
For a dog, this means they fear being separated from their owner and will react when that happens.
Canines that develop separation anxiety can start to show anxious behaviours. The dog will often start to panic just minutes after you leave them alone. Many start to whine, howl or display excessive barking. The dog may pace, chew, pant, salivate, or eliminate in the house.
It's not just when they are home alone, either. Untreated separation anxiety often makes your dog extremely clingy. They may follow you around the house, to the bathroom, or even just get anxious if another person is taking up too much of your attention.
5 Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
So why is your dog all of a sudden so needy? Puppy separation anxiety can start early in a dog's life, but even elderly dogs can display severe separation anxiety.
There are many reasons that your dog may not like being alone, but the sudden onset of separation anxiety in dogs is usually caused by a big change in their life.
They may have spent years being totally comfortable being home alone for a few hours each day, but now can't stand it when you are not with them for more than a few minutes at a time.
The first step in treating separation anxiety is understanding the cause. Dogs with separation anxiety are prone to having panic attacks and other distress responses if they are not properly treated and taught coping strategies.
Here are a few things that may trigger separation anxiety in your pup:
1. External Changes
Did you recently move homes? Or move out of the province? Are you your dog's second owner? Did you adopt them from a shelter? Just like these events could trigger a human to have an anxiety attack, they may have done the same to your pup.
Dogs develop separation anxiety when they feel insecure due to change. Big environmental changes are both scary and confusing to your dog, so it's important to help them comfortably acclimate to their new surroundings.
2. New Family Members
If your dog's destructive behaviours happen to coincide with a new family member entering your home, then this could very well be the cause of your dog's stress. New babies are especially challenging for dogs because not only is there a new person, but that person is taking up all of your time.
New roommates and pets can also have a similar effect. In these situations, your dog's destructive habits may not be isolated when he's home alone but could result in frustrating or even aggressive behaviours when you are sitting right next to them. We call this a puppy tantrum.
3. Schedule Changes
Dogs thrive on routine, so if your schedule changes drastically, like going back to the office after working from home for a year, then your dog may not be happy about this and start to show signs of separation anxiety.
Big changes like being home at different hours of the day or disrupting their normal activities like walks or meals often lead to your dog acting out to get attention. Many will indulge in destructive behaviours.
Another reason your dog might be stressed is when they lose a person or a fellow furbaby. Dogs feel grief just like we do, and they know when their home is missing a familiar presence. The dog's ability to understand where the person or pet went is often out of the scope of the dog's mind.
Any sudden emotional loss can lead a dog to start developing separation anxiety. It could be a death in the family (furry or otherwise) or a child or sibling moving away for college. Either way, this big change could trigger separation in your loyal and loving dog.
Any sudden absence is hard for a pup to cope with and can quickly lead to problems.
Dogs that are recovering or managing a serious illness, injury, or disease are likely to come out the other end a little more anxious than they went in. We can't explain to them the pain, discomfort, vet visits, surgeries, and lifestyle changes, so it's common for pets to feel extra needy during or after the recovery period.
Any serious condition or medical problem can quickly lead to signs of separation anxiety. Many dogs who suffer from a urinary tract infection who have previously been completely house trained can start to eliminate in the house as a result of the illness but also because they start experiencing separation anxiety.
Once back to full health, some dogs gradually adapt on their own, but bad habits and behaviours can be difficult to un-train once your dog has adapted to them for long enough. You'll need to help your dog cope with the changes and relearn house training.
5 Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Think your dog has separation anxiety? You may be right. But if you're unsure, pay attention to their mood, what they do when you're away, and even their general health and dietary habits.
Just like for us, anxiety can throw everything out of whack. Crate training is a great way to act as a dog sitter for pet training.
Place a food-stuffed toy or puzzle-stuffed toy to keep your dog's mind active and avoid unwanted distress behaviours.
Here are some common dog anxiety symptoms you may see or at least come home to:
1. Urinating and Defecating
Does your dog pee or poop in the house, but only when you leave? They may have separation anxiety. If your dog urinates or defecates when you're home as well, then they most likely just need to be potty trained.
2. Barking While You're Gone
When left alone, separation anxiety in dogs may cause them to bark, howl, or whine the whole time they're alone. If you get calls from neighbours or notice that whenever you're out of sight, your dog seems to make noise, he may be suffering from separation anxiety.
3. Chewing and destruction is Common
For some dogs, the best way to deal with separation anxiety is to chew on whatever they get into. They may also go through the trash, run into doors and walls, dig at the carpet or outside, and even hurt themselves (accidentally) by shuffling up and down stairs or getting into unsafe areas.
You may have heard horror stories about dogs chewing holes through drywall or tearing the baseboard off the wall in an effort to escape confinement.
This puts your dog at risk of ingesting something potentially toxic or harmful and is a serious safety cue that there is a problem and the animal is under extreme stress. The behaviour can be so extreme that the pet suffers from broken teeth.
While you may not notice pacing when you're at home if you have a dog camera or notice lines on your carpet, this is also a sign of separation anxiety. Your dog may walk back and forth, consistently walk in a circle, or walk in a pattern over and over. As the dog continues, he may start to dig on the floor or bark.
If you are starting to notice extra shedding or even bald patches on your dog, he may be over-grooming as a way to self-soothe when he's stressed. Your dog may aggressively lick or chew his paws, nurse himself, or pluck fur.
This may seem odd, but when you think of the nervous nail-biting habits that people have when they are stressed, it's not that hard to understand.
Your dog may have one or all of the above symptoms. If they do, chances are, they have separation anxiety. Now, let's talk about how to deal with it.
How To Deal With Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Every dog is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to separation anxiety. However, the tips below may help ease their fear of being separated from you. With patience, dog separation anxiety training sessions can help.
Treating anxiety takes time, patience, and a little bit of trial and error, so don't expect a quick fix. Be prepared for mistakes, and be as consistent and supportive as you can during this process. With time, you can build your dog's confidence, teach healthy and safe routines, and stop the destructive behaviours for good.
Have A Predictable Routine
When your dog displays anxious behaviours, calm your dog down by having a daily routine. This routine needs to include exercise time, feeding time, training time, outside time (or potty time), and any other time that your dog needs.
This routine needs to happen at the same time every single day. Then, during the times that you're supposed to leave, try to have that time be for a nap or alone playtime.
Try to plan ahead for routine changes so that you can practice the changes with your dog before it's crunch time. Dogs suffering from anxiety function best with a strict routine.
Meet Your Dog's Needs
Is your dog getting enough exercise, mental stimulation, and attention? Is he going outside to go to the bathroom enough? Has he received sufficient training? By meeting your dog's needs (consistently), he will be more likely to settle down and relax when you can't give him your full attention.
In anticipation of schedule changes, you may want to start adjusting activities to suit your dog's needs and make sure he is getting what he needs regardless of your busy schedule.
Give Them Their Own Space
Your dog should have their own bed, crate, pen, room, or mat to sleep, relax, and play with their toys. Provide toys like a puzzle toy stuffed item to work your dog's brain and keep their mind off being alone. Toys will often make a happy dog for short periods.
Find out more in our Foolproof Guide to Crate Training
Of course, this will be what you use during training as well (when telling them to stay or go to their place). But the important part is that over time, your dog will consider this his own special place, thus feeling comfortable whenever he lays there.
Reinforce With Treats
When your dog whines, digs, or even barks, you shouldn't reinforce these behaviours with a treat. Instead, reinforce behaviours like settling down, being relaxed, and showing independence.
You can do this by teaching them the “stay” command and extending it out for a few minutes before providing a treat. You can also teach your dog to go to their crate, bed, or mat and reward them when they sit and stay in their area.
Remember, don't ignore the anxious dog. But teach them that you reward good behaviour, like being relaxed and in their space. A food reward is a great way to divert your dog's attention from being alone for very short periods.
Whatever you do, don't ever yell at, scold, or punish your dog for having separation anxiety. They are not purposefully being disobedient. The dog's destructive acts are a sign of the canine's excessive attachment and need for physical contact with you. Only by understanding the problem and providing positive reinforcement can pet parents overcome the issue.
This is a normal reaction to being stressed or in distress. By punishing instead of training and helping, you may make the problem worse.
If your dog has extreme separation anxiety, training and routine may only go so far. Of course, you'll need to consult with a veterinarian or a veterinary behaviourist, but medication may help.
In severe cases of separation anxiety, anti-anxiety medication can help your dog deal with times of isolation without having panic attacks or showing destructive behaviour.
This is typically a last resort for dogs that put themselves at risk of physical harm due to their destructive behaviours. If your dog takes any medications, be sure to let your veterinarian know so they can customize a treatment plan.
Home Remedies For Separation Anxiety In Dogs
For most cases of separation anxiety, routine, training and the right natural supplements may be just what you need to keep your dog calm and relaxed. Natural home remedies for separation anxiety in dogs are often mild but extremely safe to try. On rare occasions, they may even work.
Here are some home remedies you can try for your dog's separation anxiety.
A tired dog is less likely to be destructive. Before leaving, go on a nice long walk with my dog, or play with your dog for 30 minutes to an hour.
Focus on getting all of their energy out and making sure that you're attentive. This will not only tire them out but allow them to have that quality, one-on-one time with you that they crave.
Forming a close bond with your furry friend is a great way to treat separation anxiety and modify the dog's behaviour in a positive fashion.
Using a puzzle toy like a Kong with a treat in the middle can keep your dog occupied anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time to get ready and leave your home before they notice.
Keep in mind that not all dogs should be left with a chew unsupervised If you aren't comfortable with how your dog chews, stick to tough dog toys that can't be eaten.
CBD is still considered controversial to some people, but there are quite a few promising studies that have shown the benefits of using CBD.
One of those benefits is reducing anxiety and helping to calm down, which can keep them from destroying the items in your home or, worse, hurting themselves. After treatment, a dog exhibits a calmer attitude.
5. Calming Solutions
Natural calming solutions like True Leaf Calming Hemp seed Oil could be a good alternative if you are sure about CBD products quite yet. Calming ingredients like chamomile and L-theanine blend with nutritious hemp seed oil to boost your dog's immune system and ease stress.
Help Your Dog Conquer Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety in dogs is more common than you think. But you can help your dog reduce their anxiety, as well as build better routines and practices. Your dog loves you, and separation anxiety is an extreme example of that. But, with patience, practice, and consistency, both of you will be happier and healthier.
Don't hesitate to reach out for professional help if you are finding your dog's anxiety to be persistent or if you feel your dog is in danger of harming themselves with their destructive behaviours.
Your vet or a certified applied animal behaviourist can help you determine if medication is needed, and a dog trainer can help teach you how to implement effective systems and solutions for your dog's extreme clinginess.
A veterinary behaviourist understands how a dog learns and can even prescribe drug therapy if needed. Typically, more severe cases of separation anxiety require a complex, multi-step treatment plan that includes medication combined with behaviour modification.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does my dog follow me everywhere?
Your dog follows you because he needs attention or because you've rewarded him for following you in the past. You can avoid this with proper training, as well as following the above tips on how to avoid separation anxiety.
How long can you leave a puppy alone?
Because you need to feed and let out a puppy every two to three hours, they shouldn't be left alone longer than that. If you plan on being gone all day for work or like to take extended trips or vacations, a puppy may not be the best option for you.
How long can you leave a dog at home?
Unlike puppies, adult dogs can survive a little longer at home alone. The general rule of thumb is around four to six hours alone, but most dogs will learn to adapt to your routine over time.
Can I train a dog to not be clingy?
For the most part, yes. By working with a behaviour specialist or investing in training, you can help your dog avoid separation anxiety with behaviour modification.
Are male dogs more prone to separation anxiety than female dogs?
Separation anxiety can affect both male and female dogs, but individual temperament and life experiences play a more significant role than gender.