Dog Separation Anxiety: Causes, Management, and Prevention

Dogs are popular pets and trustworthy companions. Pet parents usually offer the best possible care to their canine friends and raise them as the family’s most beloved members. You usually set and follow a pet care routine – providing sufficient time for your dog’s walks, regular exercise, playtime, and providing it with a nutritious diet. 

Sometimes, excessive emotional attachment with you may create behavioral problems for your dogs. Especially when the dog spends most of the time with or around you, your sudden absence may lead to a behavioral issue among dogs. Pet behaviorists call it ‘separation anxiety.’

In this article, let’s discuss what experts say are the causes of this behavioural problem, the proven methods to manage your relationship with your dog, and some training methods recommended by the experts to minimise this behavioural issue.

What are the Causes of Separation Anxiety Among Dogs?

It may be challenging to state the exact causes of separation anxiety among dogs. The symptoms and severity of this disorder may vary among different dog breeds. However, pet behaviourists summarise some ‘triggers’ that cause this behavioural issue. 

Let’s figure out some significant ‘separation anxiety triggers’ so that you can try to avoid them for your dogs:

Disruption in attached relationships

Dogs may develop an extreme emotional attachment with someone in the family. However, dogs may start feeling anxious if the person is not available.

It may be the owner, family member, or sometimes a relative spending quality time with the dog.

Your puppy may be emotionally attached to its mom and siblings. If it suddenly detaches from any of them, it may behave strangely, expressing its discomfort. Puppy separation anxiety needs early attention. If untreated, the behavioural pattern may remain for a long time.

Incidents like divorce or the death of a family member may sometimes act as a trigger. Your dog may be attached to your children. If they leave home for college or work, your dog may start feeling lonely and distressed. The absence of the dearest person becomes a cause of mental stimulation for your dog. 

In some cases, your dog develops a close attachment with a relative visiting your home for a few days. If the person goes away, the dog may show signs of separation anxiety.

A traumatic event

Some unexpected and unwanted events or accidents may lead to psychological trauma among your dogs. Such events change their behaviour drastically. The submerged emotions like fear and anxiety may make the dog uneasy when left alone.

In this kind of trigger, attachment with a human or another dog may not be the crucial factor. The most noticeable impact is the event that makes the dogs extra-conscious when left alone. 

Frequent rehoming

If a dog is frequently rehomed, it may not adapt quickly to a new environment. New people around, new smells, and new objects in the surroundings may cause loneliness. 

Here, detachment from a person may or may not have a role to play. However, a frequently changing environment may hamper the dog’s natural instinct to explore and socialise. 

Such kinds of triggers are often seen in shelter dogs. An abandoned pet goes through severe psychological trauma and takes longer to come out of it. 

Owner’s prolonged stay at home

  • An owner may be at home for a prolonged period. But once he shifts the routine and starts working, the dog may be uncomfortable and anxious in the owner’s absence.
  • Similarly, as discussed earlier, relocation of family members for educational or professional reasons may strengthen the feeling of loneliness and subsequent anxiety among your dogs.
  • The recent COVID-19 pandemic is a relevant example of such a scenario. Due to travel restrictions, most homeowners were quarantined. You adapt to the routine and culture of working from home. For your dog, you were easily accessible during this phase. 

You might have learned to keep the dog busy with a toy while participating in your virtual meetings. You might have also scheduled short walking breaks along with your dog. Your dog was more than happy to see you around all the time.

However, after almost a year, the severity of the pandemic began to dilute. Now, your employer wants you to get back to the office. Or, if you are an entrepreneur, you must be excited to strategize and start your business operations. 

As you spend most of the day at the office, the change in your routine may trigger separation anxiety in your dog. That’s how canine separation anxiety has been brought on the anvil during the last two years. 

We hope you may be able to relate some of the situations with the changing behavior of your dog after going through the above aspects. However, a pet behaviorist would be the right person to determine the root cause of this behavioral issue. 

Pet behaviourists would be well versed in treating separation anxiety. They design a customized line of treatment based on the dog’s age, breed, behavioural changes, and the severity of the issue.

Before you jump to any conclusion after noticing any signs, you must consult your veterinarian regarding this behaviour change. Veterinarians conduct specific tests to eliminate the chances of any underlying medical condition causing anxiety among dogs. 

Similarly, they can identify abnormal behavioural manifestations of the dog’s underlying anxiety.

Vet clinics collaborate with dog trainers to treat such behavioural issues holistically. Your general vet usually recommends a pet behaviourist or an animal hospital accepting patients with behavioural problems.

The pet behaviourists take your help to analyse the changes in behaviour, the severity of the issue and recommend a line of treatment accordingly. Suppose you identify any signs of separation anxiety in your pet. In that case, schedule an appointment with an expert as soon as possible.

Management and Prevention of Dog and Puppy Separation Anxiety

Preventing canine separation anxiety may not be practically possible. However, you can follow some methods to make your dogs feel at ease and secure when you are not around.

You need to make the dog independent and habitual to living alone early. Separation should never come as a shock. However, you may need to spare considerable time and effort to assure your dogs that living alone is okay and safe.

Let’s go through some simple yet meaningful aspects of separation anxiety management and prevention. 

Managing Your Relationship with Your Dog

If separation anxiety persists in your dog, it may be challenging for you to face an utter mess at home as you return after a tight work schedule. The most important pillar of the overall treatment or prevention of separation anxiety is to teach your dog to relax and enjoy.

The most crucial cause of this behavioural issue is the dog’s dependency on you to remain happy and calm. There is nothing wrong with developing a solid bond with your dog. However, when you are with it, try to make it independent. 

Your dog should be made busy in its world and should be happy to be in there, even alone. You can hire a dog sitter to train your puppy or dog to enjoy playtime and stay calm when alone.

Keep the dependency under control.

We usually think of ‘positive reinforcement’ to develop and cultivate good habits or behaviour. Your petting, showing affection, offering a treat or a toy should always occur as an appreciation of the behaviours that you expect from them. That way, you can train them on acceptable and appreciated behaviours.

Some dog owners try to calm their dogs down by offering treats and petting them. However, if you try ‘positive reinforcement’ to correct your dog’s behaviour, you will convey the wrong message. Your dog may feel that it gets rewarded when it barks or jumps. Avoid offering treats in such instances. Positive reinforcement must be to reward your dog’s good behaviour.

Training Methods

Veterinarians, professional dog trainers, and pet behaviourists recommend training methods and execute training sessions. 

Working with your veterinarian, specialist pet behaviourist, and trainer will help you minimize your dog’s chances of inducing separation anxiety. Also, training is a critical element of treatments for dogs suffering from this behavioural issue.

One of the most effective training methods for preventing separation anxiety is a ‘process to practice separation.’ Let’s analyse this training method step-by-step:

Start with smaller detachments.

Do you notice signs of anxiety in your dog as you try to go out? Plan a training process to ease down your dog’s excitement and fear.

As the first step, get ready – wear your formal clothing and accessories, wear your shoes, pick up the key, and stop. Don’t step out of the home. Let the dog approach you. It may start pacing, licking, or showing other signs. Let it continue for some time and settle down.

Be seated in a chair for about 10-15 minutes. Then don’t go out. Continue with your routine at home. Continue this step on several occasions. This method trains your dog to calm down, minimizing its desperate behaviour during separation.

Then, as your next step, go out and come back immediately. Your dog may be uncomfortable for a few minutes, and then it returns to the normal state of mind, as you don’t go away from it for a long time.

Keep the reunions regular.

Avoid over-excitement and too much praise and affection for your dog as you come back. Let the reunion be ordinary. Let the departure and reunion become a part of the routine for your dog. Your dog may not obey in the first instance. However, as it realises that going out and returning home is a part of your life, it settles down gradually.

Gradually increase the duration of separation.

In the next phase of this training method, increase your duration of parting. Initially, go out for a few minutes, then for half an hour, then an hour, and then for a long time.

This training method helps you reduce your dog’s dependency on you to stay calm and secure. You need to plan this process well before you start going out for a day as a routine.

Other training methods train your dog to enjoy and tolerate when left alone. Most importantly, your dog needs to find different ways to engage, play, and stay happy irrespective of your company.

Creating ‘boundaries’

Plan your routine to include some interactive activities with your dog- like playtime, walking, cuddle time, potty time, exercise or training. Provide a considerable amount of time for your dog to relax in its crate. During this phase, you don’t interact with your dog.

The mixture of interactive and non-interactive activities will develop a habit in your dog to stay calm and relaxed. Gradually, it will not seek your attention all the time. 

Crate Training

Train your dog to enjoy toys, food-releasing games, and other activities being in its crate from the beginning. Crate training activities provide many different ways for your dog to engage and entertain itself. 

Being in a crate should not be a ‘confinement’ for your dog. Instead, it should treat the crate as a safe and comfortable place to relax.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise and training add sufficient physical activity to your dog’s routine. Regular exercise helps your dog be healthy, happy, and relaxed. As your dog involves itself in different physical activities and dog sports, gradually, it becomes emotionally stable. Exercise can be an effective preventive remedy for a dog’s anxiety.

Desensitization

The idea here is to minimize the anxiety as you go away by redirecting your dog’s attention to some high-value treat or toy. Let your dog understand that separation may have joyous rewards. 

However, give it sufficient time to develop a habit of engaging in other activities like playing with toys. Increase the duration of your departure gradually. Let your dog remain amid toys and treats. 

Desensitization calms your dog’s anxiety and keeps it busy with something it loves to do.

Counter-Conditioning

Usually, your actions like wearing a coat, wearing shoes, and picking up your car keys trigger anxiety in your dog. Do all these things and go to your dinner table along with your family. 

Your dog will gradually stop associating your activities like wearing a coat and shoes with going out. You need to repeat this method consistently to treat separation anxiety from your dog’s mind. Most dogs benefit from this method.

Developing Independence

Train your puppy or dog to be in a different room when home. Prolong the duration gradually to let it learn independence. That way, over-attachment will never be developed. The dog will never feel trapped or lost as you go away from home. 

Developing independence is the best way to prevent dog anxiety. Many dogs learn to engage in dog sports and other fun-filled activities and forget about dog anxiety as they grow older.

Training to prevent separation anxiety among dogs requires dedication, patience, and commitment. You need to grow your dog to be well-mannered, happy, and fun-loving, even when it is alone. 

Strategize the training routine beforehand to prevent this behavioural issue. Treating separation anxiety in dogs requires your long-term involvement and commitment.

If you notice any signs of separation anxiety in your dog, find a vet clinic for an initial diagnosis. If the dog requires specialised care, training, and treatment, your vet will refer you to a pet behaviourist.

The Takeaway

Canine separation anxiety is a widely discussed behavioural issue in recent times. We hope the various aspects of this behavioural issue, such as causes, management, and preventive training methods discussed in this article, will be helpful to you.

Wisely plan training sessions to prevent separation anxiety in your dog. However, find a vet clinic near you through the online vet discovery platform if you notice any signs. Schedule an appointment and consult a veterinarian or pet behaviourist at the earliest.

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