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Separation Anxiety in Dogs Signs, Symptoms, Treatment

Separation Anxiety in Dogs Signs, Symptoms, Treatment

Separation anxiety is one of the most common issues pet parents experience with their dogs. It generally happens if your pooch is hyper attached to you. And signs of separation anxiety become evident only when you start leaving your dog alone. It can get stressed about not having you – the pack leader – around. As a caregiver, you must learn as much as you can about separation anxiety in dogs, especially because your furry friend might feel traumatised every time you leave it alone.

Signs of separation anxiety in dogs

Separation anxiety can manifest in several forms. Thus, identifying separation anxiety can be a tad difficult. However, fret not and read further. This section covers the common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs. However, you must note that the below points can be considered as a sign of separation anxiety only if your dog engages in them in your absence. If it engages in these behaviours or symptoms even in your presence, you might have to meet a vet or a professional dog trainer.

  • Excessive barking and howling: Barking is dogs’ way of expressing themselves. So, when a dog barks or howls, it is trying to convey its feelings. If your pooch starts barking from the moment you put on your boots and step out, chances are that it is a sign of separation anxiety in dogs.
  • Pacing: If triggered by separation anxiety, some dogs walk back and forth out of restlessness. They might also move in circles and seem agitated due to anxiety. 
  • Destructive behaviour: A lot of dogs chew on objects like door frames, chairs, pillows, etc. and destroy the house due to their unbearable stress. While such behaviour can create a mess, it can also injure your pooch.
  • House spoiling: Dogs with separation anxiety are likely to urinate or defecate in the house even if they are potty trained. The fear of being abandoned or separated from you might leave your pooch feeling helpless and out of control.
  • Escape attempts: Sometimes, when dogs are consumed by the fear of losing their pet parent, they try to escape from their cage or house. They do this in an attempt to find their favorite human.

Along with the aforementioned examples, there are various other signs of separation anxiety in dogs. And these include loss of appetite, excessive drooling, and coprophagia (excreting and then eating it). They might also engage in attention-seeking behaviours right before your departure or after the reunion.

Why do dogs develop separation anxiety?

Though a lot of dogs develop separation anxiety, there is no conclusive evidence on its cause. However, this disorder is commonly seen in dogs that are adopted from shelters. Dogs who have lived in the same family since their puppyhood generally do not show any sign of separation anxiety. It stems from the fear of being thrown out from the pack because these poor babies from animal shelters have already lost their caretaker once.

As a dog parent, you must know that there are multiple other life experiences that can lead to separation anxiety. So, let’s explore the causes of separation anxiety (apart from being surrendered to an animal shelter or given to a new guardian):

  • Absence of a family member: Your dog can develop separation anxiety in case of a sudden absence of any family member. This could either be due to death or moving away.
  • Changed routine: A sudden change in the amount of time your dog spends alone in the house can cause separation anxiety. Let’s imagine this scenario: Since you work from home, you are always around your dog. However, your organisation has resumed the work-from-office culture. Hence, you suddenly start leaving your pooch alone for long hours, which can lead to separation anxiety.
  • Changed residence: Moving to a new house or locality can also trigger separation anxiety in dogs.

How is separation anxiety different from other health issues

While separation anxiety is a serious issue for both the dog and pet parent, it is nowhere similar to other health issues. Yes. Dogs show certain signs of illnesses like dog vomiting, diarrhea, shivering, etc. But, these symptoms are only seen when the dog is left alone. Once you are back and around, it will look happy and healthy. Hence, it is imperative to observe your pooch constantly and rule out any medical conditions. Certain medications can also lead to frequent urination, so check with your veterinarian to confirm the cause of your dog’s behaviour.

How to treat separation anxiety in dogs?

You must take a holistic approach while treating separation anxiety in dogs. While it should normalise the alone time for your furry friend, it must also address the underlying cause. So, here are a few ways of curing separation anxiety in dogs:

Treatment for mild separation anxiety

If your pooch shows mild symptoms of separation anxiety, counter conditioning might alleviate the condition. This will help you change your dog’s fearful and restless reaction to a relaxed and calm one. However, your pawfect pal has to associate alone time with good experiences. Hence, every time you leave your dog alone, give it a puzzle toy with food. It will keep your pet engaged for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Moreover, you must avoid warm greetings to keep your comings and goings a tad low-key. In fact, once you get home, try to ignore your fur baby for a few minutes. It can be heart wrenching to not comfort your pet with a warm hug, but it is necessary for its overall well-being.

Note: This treatment will only work on mild cases of separation anxiety as highly anxious dogs will not eat anything in their pet parent’s absence.

Treatment for severe separation anxiety

If your dog shows moderate or serious symptoms of separation anxiety, you might have to adopt complex desensitisation and counterconditioning tactics. With this approach, you help your dog get accustomed to being alone. However, the trick is to start small. To begin with, you will start leaving your dog alone for a couple of minutes and come back. You can slowly increase the duration of the separation time over a span of several weeks. Moreover, the effects of this treatment needs to be evaluated based on the dog’s reaction and comfort; hence, you will need a professional dog trainer's help.

How to prevent separation anxiety in dogs?

Socialising and training your pooch to stay alone from an early age is one of the best ways to keep separation anxiety at bay. Expose your pet to a multitude of sounds, sights, scents, things, and experiences to help it grow into a confident dog. However, make sure that these dog training and socialising sessions are fun and exciting. If your fur baby shows any kind of discomfort, pause the training and resume later. Adopt positive reinforcement methods to ensure that your puppy is happy and healthy.

Things to avoid if your dog suffers from separation anxiety

There are multiple approaches that people take to treat separation anxiety in dogs. However, certain tricks are an absolute no-no. Let’s explore them in brief:

  • Punishment: Punishing a dog for its behaviour during your absence can worsen its anxiety.
  • Bringing another dog: Getting a companion for your pooch is not the solution as it is anxious about being separated from you. Your dog is not scared of being alone.
  • Obedience training: While dog obedience training is an important aspect of a dog-parent relationship, it cannot fix the symptoms of separation anxiety. The way your pooch behaves in your absence is not disobedience, but fear. Address the cause and your fur baby will stop showing the signs of dog separation anxiety.

This article covers everything you need to know about separation anxiety in dogs. However, if you need additional support to treat your pet’s condition, reach out to a certified behaviourist. They can help you address the root cause of your pet's anxiety by observing it and evaluating the measures you take to resolve the issue.

Frequently asked questions about separation anxiety in dogs

Do dogs eventually get over separation anxiety?

In most cases, dogs do not get over separation anxiety automatically. As a dog parent, you have to address the root cause to help your pooch cope with it.

How long does it take to break a dog from separation anxiety?  

Do dogs feel lonely when left alone?

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