Separation Anxiety in Dogs: How to Spot It and Help Alleviate the Symptoms
7 tips for how to help a dog with separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is one of the most common ailments of the modern dog. You’ve either dealt with it first hand, or know someone who has. Whether you have an adult pandemic puppy who grew up thinking they’d never be alone, or if you have a Grade-A velcro dog, leaving our dogs can cause anxiety for them and for us. It is natural to want to spend every waking moment with our dogs, but dogs and puppies need to learn to cope on their own.
How to Help a Dog With Separation Anxiety
If your dog gets nervous as soon as you pick up your shoes, here are some tips and tricks to help your dog cope with separation anxiety:
1. Spend time with your pup before you leave.
For starters, make sure your dog's needs are met before leaving them. For dogs with high anxiety levels, meeting mental and physical needs before leaving will help set them up for success. Even if you’re only able to squeeze in a game of fetch in the yard or a walk around the block, some mental and physical exercise is better than none.
If someone has been with your dog 24/7 over summer vacation, help them prepare by leaving them in short increments of time, and increase the amount of time you are gone every day. We don't want them to go from having someone there all the time, to being left alone for eight hours a day.
2. Create a small dog-designated space.
A kennel, playpen or designated dog-safe area of the home will be incredibly useful. A secure area for your pet will ensure they are kept safe while you are gone. It is all too common for dogs to get into trash or chew up belongings if they feel anxious while left alone. Kennel training is easiest taught from a young age, but dogs of any age can be taught to use a kennel. The type of kennel or secured area will vary depending on if you have an escape artist on your hands, not all kennels or playpens will work for every dog.
If your dog is new to being in a kennel, don’t just toss them in there and hope for the best! Make every experience with the kennel or playpen positive, we want this to be a safe place for them, not a punishment.
3. Treat them to high-value rewards.
Food enrichment can be useful in many scenarios, including separation anxiety. Lickimats and stuffable toys can be filled with pumpkin puree, apple sauce, peanut butter, etc and stuck in the freezer to make a safe and yummy challenge for your dog. Licking releases endorphins and dopamine, making our pups feel relaxed and happy! This is a safer alternative to giving them a bully stick or other chews that could potentially become a choking hazard.
4. Set a calm atmosphere and mood.
Playing music or dog TV can be soothing for some dogs and may help comfort them while you’re away. Classical music has been shown to reduce agitation in dogs, where intense music may have the opposite effect. Make sure the volume is not too loud, dogs ears are much more sensitive than our own!
5. Set up a dog cam.
Leaving our dogs during the day can be as hard on the humans as it is on the dogs. Putting a camera near your dog's space can help ease your worries when you’re away, and it’ll be easier to know if you need to come home and check on them. Some cameras specifically made for dogs will even throw a treat at them when you tell it to!
6. Look into substitute daytime-companionship.
Daycare or dog-walkers are commonly used for dogs who need extra attention during the day. There are pros and cons to using both of these services, so ultimately you will need to decide if you feel the pros outweigh the cons! Whatever route you choose, make sure to screen any potential daycares and dog-walkers thoroughly.
7. Consult a professional.
If you have tried everything to help your dog cope with being alone and it seems like nothing is helping them, reach out to a behavior specialist or your dog's veterinarian. Anxiety can be a genetic trait, so do not feel like you failed your pup if you are still struggling with their anxiety. Behaviorists and veterinarians may be able to suggest anxiety medications or CBD to help your dog feel safer while being on their own.
Regardless if your dog has a history of separation anxiety or not, all dogs can benefit from their owners having a mindful plan before leaving them for school or work. Most of us would wish to spend 24/7 with our dogs, but spending time apart is necessary and healthy!