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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle Plascak

Understanding Separation Anxiety in Dogs: A Guide for Owners

As devoted pet owners, we strive to provide our furry companions with the best care possible. However, one common challenge many dog owners face is separation anxiety in their pets. This condition can manifest in various ways, causing distress for both the dog and its owner. In this blog post, we'll delve into what separation anxiety is, its causes, symptoms, and most importantly, how to help your canine friend cope.

What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Separation anxiety is a psychological condition in dogs characterized by extreme distress when separated from their owners or when left alone. It can occur in dogs of any age, breed, or background, and studies show there are no correlation to these factors and any increased chance in developing separation anxiety. Dogs are social animals by nature and form strong attachments to their human companions, making them susceptible to separation anxiety in general.

Causes of Separation Anxiety:

Some factors can contribute to the development of separation anxiety in dogs but studies have found that there is very few consistent causation and simply more correlations to anxieties/stress in dogs and how they cope or handle different stressors in general. One thing experts have found to believe through studies is that separation anxiety holds a strong genetic component and there is actually very little environmental cause to it in general. There are, however, some things that might trigger it to become heightened or go from a mild issue to a bigger one. 

Here are some examples of things that might increase separation anxiety symptoms:

  1. Sudden loss of a family member: Dogs that have experienced traumatic events or have lost a human or animal companion that they were close to can trigger separation anxiety.

  2. Lack of sufficient exercise/enrichment: While not a solution in itself (exercise and enrichment won't make separation issues go away completely) Insufficient exercise and mental enrichment can heightened separation anxiety symptoms and is certainly something we want to rule out!

  3. Changes in routine or homes: Sudden changes in the household, such as a new family member, moving to a new home, or a change in the owner's schedule, can trigger anxiety in sensitive dogs.

  4. Confinement: Studies have shown that one big correlation to separation issues is confinement anxiety. Dogs that have separation or panic issues also tend to do poorly in closed spaces so things like crates and confinement areas can intensify the dogs reactions to being alone.

Symptoms of separation anxiety: Recognizing the signs of separation anxiety is crucial for early intervention. It is also important to recognize that not all symptoms have to be present for your dog to be suffering. Plenty of dogs are in a heightened state of anxiety and are not vocal nor destructive every single time you leave. Common symptoms include :

  1. Excessive barking, whining, or howling when left alone.

  2. Destructive behavior, such as chewing furniture or scratching doors.

  3. Inappropriate urination or defecation indoors.

  4. Pacing or restlessness.

  5. Attempts to escape confinement, such as breaking out of crates or digging under fences.

How to Help Your Dog Cope: Managing separation anxiety requires patience, consistency, and understanding. Here are some strategies to help your dog cope:

  1. Gradual Desensitization: Gradual acclimation and desensitization is necessary for your dog to start feeling safe being alone. This is done by leaving for short periods ONLY under your dogs current tolerance and then gradually increasing the duration unpredictably over time. It is vital that all of this is done without your dog panicking so most people have to stop leaving their dogs alone during this process. Withholding absences and desensitizing leaving is the only way to long term recovery. Time to find a puppy sitter!

  2. Create a Safe Space: Provide your dog with a comfortable and spacious area where they can feel safe when left alone. Limit their access to the house by closing doors and blocking off space but allowing them to be in the main area as much as possible is helpful

  3. Exercise and Mental Stimulation: Regular exercise and mental stimulation can help alleviate anxiety and promote relaxation in dogs though this in itself is not a cure.

  4. Avoid Punishment: Punishment can worsen anxiety and erode the bond between you and your dog. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement and reward calm behavior. Getting your dog to stop barking with a bark collar is not actually taking away the underlying issue and the reason he was barking. The behaviors your dog does because of stress is their way of coping and outputting the anxiety. Using these punishing tools and removing or suppressing the outlet for excreting and expressing this anxiety is likely to cause the anxiety to manifest into something worse (destruction, self harm, or even aggression)

  5. Seek Professional Help: In severe cases, consult with a veterinarian or a certified separation anxiety specialist for personalized guidance and treatment options.

Conclusion: Separation anxiety can be a challenging issue for both dogs and their owners, but with patience, understanding, and the right approach, it can be managed and cured effectively. By recognizing the signs of anxiety, addressing the underlying causes, and implementing appropriate strategies, you can help your dog feel more secure and confident when left alone. Remember, every dog is unique, so finding the right approach may require some trial and error. With dedication and love, you can support your furry friend through their struggles and strengthen your bond in the process.

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1 Comment

Apr 17

Thank you this was super helpful! Do you offer training in home to help as well?

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