What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety in canines is a condition in which dogs are overly attached to family members and exhibit distress behavior like destruction, vocalization and soiling. It is common in puppies or newly adopted dogs with fear of abandonment. Any big life events such as a move to a new house or loss of a family member can trigger this condition as well. Due to the increased time we have spent at home with our dogs during the pandemic, separation anxiety might be a new or a worsened issue for many dog parents. Other signs can include panting or salivating excessively, trying to escape, and pacing obsessively.
How do you know if it is separation anxiety?
Some of the symptoms could be caused by other factors like boredom or just plain puppyhood, so how can you tell it is separation anxiety? If the behavior is triggered by the departure of the guardian(s) and by no other apparent reason, it is reasonable to assume that it is separation anxiety. However, you should discuss with your veterinarian to rule out any possible medical reasons for the behavior.
What can you do?
If left unaddressed, separation anxiety can cause great stress for all parties involved. Good news - it is treatable with the right training and patience! Here are some helpful approaches and tips.
- Start training your dog by leaving for 5 minutes, then return calmly and refrain from giving any attention until he/she settles down. Then, gradually increase the period of time you are gone. This may be a long process that requires plenty of patience and time, but it will be worth it! By doing this, you will show your dog that you will keep returning and hopefully alleviate any fear of abandonment.
- Once your dog is more comfortable being alone for short periods, try giving a “special treat” every time you leave. Associating your departure with this treat can alleviate anxiety and provide distraction. Making the “special treat” something that can be safely consumed alone is important. We love breaking up our treats, stuffing them into a Kong with some peanut butter and freezing it!
- Go for a long walk or engage in active playtime before leaving your dog alone to expend their energy to make it easier for them to relax and sleep in your absence. It is important to make sure you are not leaving your dog in an energetic, hyper mode to set them up for success.
- Don’t make a big deal when you return home or when you head out. This is to de-sensitize your dog to departures and arrivals to lead to calmer reactions when you leave the house.
- Perform your departure cues, such as picking up your keys or packing your bag, habitually throughout the day and don’t leave. This is to break up the association of these actions with your departure so they don’t trigger anxious behavior.
Whether you have a puppy or a newly adopted shelter dog on your hands, separation anxiety might feel daunting but just take it one day at a time. With patience and love, everything will be alright!