Updated: Mar 19
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation Anxiety is a subset of problem behaviours that we can refer to as separation related behaviours. These behaviours occur when the owner is absent. Behaviours that may indicate your dog is not coping when left alone may be:
- Vocalisations (Barking, whining, howling)
-Toileting (Urinating or defecating)
-Panting or drooling
-Barking at noises outside
-Refusing to play
But you may ask why does my dog show some of these at other times of the day?
Yes these behaviours can occur at other times of the day, for example, your dog could still toilet in the house or vocalise during the day (at noises, for attention etc.) when you are present. However, if these behaviours increase in intensity and frequency when left alone then your dog may have a separation related problem.
Why does my dog do this?
Your dog may show these behaviours with different underlying emotions. Your dog may be feeling fearful / anxious, frustrated or bored. If your dog has other behavioural issues such as reactivity or noise sensitivies this can also impact them being left alone e.g. hearing a noise when alone, or reacting at a dog out of the window could cause them to be anxious left alone. Therefore, Separation Anxiety should be seen as a symptom rather than a diagnosis, and it is important we understand the root cause for an effective treatment programme.
How can you help your dog?
Seeing your dog distressed can be difficult for you as an owner and your dog. Many owners come to me feeling upset that their dog is distressed alone and want to help their beloved pet overcome this issue.
There is no quick fixes for separation anxiety and from experience of dealing with hundreds of cases of separation anxiety we know this takes time and every dog may differ on how long this may take. What can you do to help?
Dont leave your dog distressed - Stopping any absences means your dog wont need to be left to panic and short term this means you wont need to stress and worry what you might come home to. Each time your dog is left alone distressed this adds to your dogs bank of fearful encounters left alone, thus makes this scarier each time you leave. I know this sounds tough right and you may be asking how can I do this? Many of my clients will find ways to do this. Get your family, friends or neighbours involved if you can when you need to leave the house. There could also be options of daycare, taking your dog to work, or getting a dog walker for an hour whilst you nip to get your shopping done.
Create a safe haven - For your dogs to feel safe at home, ensure they have a place they feel safe. You can begin by ensuring your dog has a comfy place to relax. Your dogs resting area needs to be of adequate size and comfort for your dog to be able to get good quality sleep. For some dogs this may be a particular room, sofa or a comfy bed. Build positive associations with this area by dropping treats in this area and providing them with enrichment in this area.
Enrich your dogs life - Ensure your dog has plenty of mental and physical stimulation throughout the day. This won't cure your dogs separation anxiety but for your dog to have more success with their leaving alone training, ensuring all their needs are met and they feel calm is vital.
Teach them to settle - You can teach your dog to settle on an area as this will promote relaxed behaviours, but also promote independance if they can learn to settle away from you.
Seek Professional help - There is a lot of conflicting advice out there and it can be difficult where to start and you may find yourself trying lots of options but not succeeding. Some advice is poor and can do more damage to your dog. Ensure you seek a professional qualified behaviourist who can help understand why your dog is doing the behaviour they are, and in turn they can give you a tailored plan suited to your individual dog. Long term your dog will require a gradual build up to being alone at a pace your dog can cope with. As Separation Anxiety Experts we are able to offer you tailored and easy to follow support to help regain your freedom.