Now that some of us are starting to return to work, your dog may be facing the harsh reality that he’ll be home alone all day. Separation anxiety in dogs can lead to some seriously destructive and dangerous behaviours.
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.
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 separation anxiety in dogs.
Can Dogs Have Separation Anxiety?
Absolutely. Subtle symptoms of separation anxiety often go unnoticed or are chalked up to bad dog behaviour, but real separation anxiety in dogs is not as rare as you may think.
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. Separation anxiety in dogs can be triggered by changes to your normal routine, like moving, a new baby, and even a new work schedule.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
What exactly is separation anxiety? 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.
These destructive behaviours aren’t just specific to dogs who are left alone all day while you are at work. Dogs with separation anxiety will often start to panic just minutes after you leave them alone.
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? 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. 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 dog.
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 to 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. 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.
Another reason your dog might be stressing 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.
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 anxiety in your loyal and loving dog.
5. Illness or Disease
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.
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.
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.
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.
Learn more about how to stop this bad habit in How to Stop Dog Barking When Left Home Alone
3. Chewing & 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 downstairs or getting into unsafe areas.
You may have heard horror stories about dogs chewing holes through drywall or tearing the baseboard off the wall. This puts your dog at risk of ingesting something potentially toxic or harmful.
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.
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 these 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.
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
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.
Meet Your Dog’s Needs
Is your dog getting enough exercise 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. 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 a dog is trained to follow commands like sit and stay, most likely, they are taught with treats. You can do the same thing to help train your dog to not have separation anxiety.
When your dog whines, or 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 your dog. But teach them that you reward good behaviour like being relaxed and in their space.
Whatever you do, don’t ever yell at, scold, or punish your dog for having separation anxiety. They are not purposefully being disobedient.
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.
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.
Here are some home remedies you can try for your dog’s separation anxiety.
Give Them A Good Workout
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.
Try A Treat That Keeps Them Occupied
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.
Natural chews are another great option for keeping your dog busy. Bully sticks, raw bones, and tendons are great for food-motivated dogs that love to chew. 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 dogs, which can keep them from destroying the items in your home, or worse, hurting themselves.
Other 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.
FAQs About Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Have questions about separation anxiety in dogs? You’re not alone. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions, and their answers.
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. But, the general rule of thumb is around four to six hours alone, but most dogs will learn to adapt to your routine over time. Need to be gone longer? Think about adding another pet to your home to give your dog a buddy, or make plans to come home halfway through the day.
Dog daycares are also a great option for dogs that need supervision during the day. It’s a great way to keep them active and safe while you are away from home.
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.
But, remember, it’s not your dog’s fault if they are clingy. This is a learned behaviour, and a dog doesn’t have the brainpower to understand why they’re clingy. You, as their owner, need to work on this issue with them consistently until it is no longer an issue.
A clingy dog also means that they trust you. You are the protector and companion, so a little bit of clinginess isn’t always a bad thing, but everything in moderation, of course.
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 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.
Did you just go back to work and are concerned about how your dog is going to react? Let us know how your dog is handling this and any tips you’ve found to keep your dog safe and relaxed when he’s home alone.