When your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety it is both heartbreaking and frustrating. We love our pups and enjoy our time with them but the reality of work, school, and life in general, makes it impossible to spend every waking minute with them.
We’ve broken down how to prevent the onset of separation anxiety, what to look for to properly identify it and how you can give your dog the confidence they need to spend time on their own.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Excessive salivation and/or licking at paws
Having accidents only when left alone and after successful house-training
On-going barking and/or whining
Destruction of household items ie., shoes, pillows, magazines, plants a.k.a. Anything within reach
Excessive scratching at doors, walls or windows (sometimes to the point of injury)
Attempts to escape from the crate or room they’ve been put in
Sudden lethargy and disinterest in food or activity
Restlessness or a change in behavior when you begin to prepare to leave the house
IS IT REALLY SEPARATION ANXIETY?
Some of the signs and symptoms for separation anxiety disguise themselves as aggression, regression, boredom or visa versa. To resolve the unwanted behaviors your pup is exhibiting, it’s important to understand the root cause. Is your pup soiling all over the house while you’re away because they’re experiencing stress and anxiety or is it an underlying medical issue? Are they destroying anything they can get their paws on while you’re away out of boredom or is it a desperate attempt to escape the confines of their dedicated space?
Most symptoms for separation anxiety will begin because of a change in routine (ie., the kids going back to school, you returning to work) and will occur while you’re out of sight or away from the house completely. You also may notice some of the behaviors beginning as you prepare to leave the house (packing your lunch every morning, grabbing your keys, etc.).
Some things you can do to determine if your pup is truly experiencing stress, include:
Keeping track of when these behaviors occur. Is it only when you’re away from the house or out of sight?
Ask your neighbors if they hear anything while you’re away (they’ll likely be more than happy to share if your pup has been howling consistently throughout the day) or consider using a puppy cam to record your pet’s activity while you’re gone.
Ensure your pup is getting enough exercise and cognitive stimulation. A dog suffering from boredom is going to get restless when cooped up in the house, which can also lead to the destruction of furniture/shoes/carpet, etc.,
Have a vet offer their opinion. It never hurts to rule out underlying medical issues that could be causing “accidents” around the house.
Once you have ruled out other possibilities for their behavior; use the following tips to prevent or reverse the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety.
GET STARTED EARLY
Providing your puppy with the confidence to be apart from their humans begins as soon as they’re ready for training. Use TLC Whole Life Dog Biscuits to reward behavior you want to see and in this case, ignore the behavior you don’t.
You want them to learn from an early age that:
They are safe in their crate/area of the house
Your coming and going is a part of life
Remaining calm and being patient will reap rewards (like treats and attention)
You want to AVOID teaching them that:
It’s a big deal when you leave or are not present
When they act out/whine/bark, you will come running
They can’t feel secure without you being close by
Separation anxiety is much easier to prevent than it is to reverse, however, the following tips can be used for both training a puppy or retraining a dog experiencing symptoms. Retraining will take time but with a little patience and consistency from the whole family, you can help your dog learn to feel secure when they’re left alone.
WHAT TO DO
PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE
Have your puppy become familiar with the space they’ll be occupying when left alone over time. Whether a crate, a room, or part of the house, let them explore and sniff their way to comfort. Slowly have them spend longer intervals of time in this space alone. Start with leaving the area and progress to short trips and so on.
AVOID REWARDING UNWANTED BEHAVIOR
Although sometimes hard to resist, avoid rewarding unwanted behaviors with affection and attention. Even reprimanding your pup can be viewed as a reward if they’re looking for attention. If your puppy begins barking or whining from their crate, wait until they’ve stopped before entering the room. When they’re calm and ready, open the door and give them a TLC Whole Life Dog Biscuit. If they follow you around, nudging your leg, or pounce on you the second you walk through the door, ignore them. Wait until they’ve calmed down, are sitting patiently and then give them the attention.
HINT: TLC Whole Life Dog Biscuits can be broken into pieces for training. Packed with wholesome, natural ingredients and including glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy hips and joints; TLC biscuits are a healthy reward your pup will love.
KEEP IT CALM
For some of us, leaving our dogs for work or an extended period of time can be just as stressful as it is on them. Regardless, avoid making a big deal about your departure. Our pups look to us for cues on how to feel, when we exhibit signs of stress or anxiety, their bound to pick up on it. You need to treat your leaving as “no big deal”. You’ll be back.
SEE YOU LATER
Avoid creating a long drawn out routine that signals your departure. Say goodbye if you have to but keep it short or avoid it altogether if you can. The idea is to make your coming and going a normal and unimportant aspect of daily life. Fit your snuggles in well before leaving. Even sensing that you’re about to leave can cause a pup with separation anxiety stress, so not making a fuss and carrying on as normal will help to keep things calm.
Some dogs respond well to a little distraction. Try leaving the T.V. on low, playing music, a sound machine or audio book. Just the feeling of humans being present can help to keep an otherwise anxious pup calm.
The last thing we want is to prolong suffering for our pets. If your dog happens to have a severe case of separation anxiety (to the point where they are injuring themselves when left alone), your vet may recommend medication to keep them calm. This should be considered a temporary solution and used in combination with efforts to retrain your dog to feel secure and confident, no matter if they’re close by or on their own.