Walk Your Dog Before Leaving
Of course, we cant forget about how important exercise is for both the physical and mental health of dogs. You should be making sure your dog gets regular exercise no matter what, but it can also double as a way to reduce anxiety.
Taking your dog for a walk in the morning before you leave can help to wear them out and burn off some of that nervous energy. Theyre more likely to nap and be in a better state of mind after theyve gotten some activity in their day!
Desensitizing To Departure Cues
Many often-recommend treatments such as desensitizing your dog to departure cues and counterconditioning did not help dogs in a 2011 study more than simple systematic desensitization.
So, if you have limited energy, focus on the one goal: building up your pups tolerance for being alone.
Malena Demartini adds:
A lot of people spend a lot of energy on adjunct treatments like leaving the TV on, using a thunder shirt, and getting adaptil collars. While these treatments might fall into the cant hurt category, they actually can hurt because they take so much emotional energy and time away from the actual desensitization work that needs to be done.
While theres nothing inherently wrong with desensitizing your dog to departure cues, dont let that distract you from what matters getting your dog comfortable with being home alone.
Why Do Dogs Have Separation Anxiety
It is not understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety. There could be an underlying medical condition. Or it could be triggered by an environmental change, like the addition of a new baby, a move to a new home, or the death of an owner or another pet. Other causes could be from a change in schedule , or because the dog is spending more time in the crate, kennel, or vet’s office.
The Spruce / Missy Schrott
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Medical Problems To Rule Out First
Incontinence Caused by Medical ProblemsSome dogs house soiling is caused by incontinence, a medical condition in which a dog leaks or voids his bladder. Dogs with incontinence problems often seem unaware that theyve soiled. Sometimes they void urine while asleep. A number of medical issuesincluding a urinary tract infection, a weak sphincter caused by old age, hormone-related problems after spay surgery, bladder stones, diabetes, kidney disease, Cushings disease, neurological problems and abnormalities of the genitaliacan cause urinary incontinence in dogs. Before attempting behavior modification for separation anxiety, please see your dogs veterinarian to rule out medical issues.
MedicationsThere are a number of medications that can cause frequent urination and house soiling. If your dog takes any medications, please contact his veterinarian to find out whether or not they might contribute to his house-soiling problems.
How To Help A Dog With Separation Anxiety
Its a heartbreaking scene after a short time away from your house, you return to a dog thats wet from drool, trembling and wide-eyed with fear. Theres a mess by the door, and the TV remote and couch cushions are chewed to bits.
Its clear that youre dealing with more than just canine mischief. This is a case of a dog with separation anxiety, which can cause stress for your pup and for you.
Heres how to help your dog with separation anxiety to ensure their safety and well-being.
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What Can I Do If My Dog Is Anxious When Im Not At Home
Dogs are highly social animals who generally prefer to live in groups. Many dogs can become anxious when separated from their human family. Anxiety is characterised by signs of distress when affected animals are separated from an owner or family group to who the animal is attached. Behavioural responses can include toileting in the house, destructiveness, excessive barking, digging or pacing and attempting to escape, among other distress signs.
The goal of management and treatment is to teach the dog how to be calm and relaxed when the person to whom the dog is attached is absent. It involves changes in pet-owner interactions, changes in leaving and returning routines, decreasing the anxiety associated with owner departure, teaching the pet how to be left alone and other environmental changes and management.
Owners should consult with their veterinarian for advice. They can either help you directly or they may offer referral to a behavioural specialist who uses humane reward-based training.
Submissive Or Excitement Urination
It is not uncommon for dogs to urinate during greetings, physical contact, play, when being scolded, or when putting on a leash. Dogs will typically show physical signs of submissive posture in interactions. This includes displaying their stomach, holding their tail low, flattening their ears against their head, crouching, and shaking.
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Leave Comfort Items And Background Music On For Your Dog
Items that have your scent such as dirty laundry can help your dog relax and remember that you will come back. Remove stress factors such as chokers, collars, chains, or crates if your dog doesnt like them. Hide treats around the house so they can hunt them while you’re away. Finally, soothing nature sounds can help your dog relax and fall asleep. You can monitor your dog through a Petcube Bites 2, a pet camera that doubles as a treat dispenser.
Will Toys Treats Or Exercise Fix My Dogs Separation Anxiety
Maybe. The jury is still out on this one.
Dr. Jen Summerfield advocates using hidden treats as her main SA treatment method, citing their simplicity for owners. Pairing hidden treats with anti-anxiety medication is enough for many dogs.
But other studies have pointed to treats having little effect on separation anxiety. In my personal experience with dogs , treats did not help much. The dogs were simply too panicked to eat for even the slightest absence.
Instead, we just focused on slow and steady desensitization.
Likewise, exercising your dog to the point of exhaustion wont fix her separation anxiety. It might reduce the energy that she puts into an escape, but it wont fix the underlying panic.
That being said, boosting your dogs exercise regimen certainly wont hurt, and is likely still a good idea for keeping your dog safe and burning off some of that excess anxious energy.
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What Causes Separation Anxiety In Adult Dogs
Its possible the previous owner mistreated the dog, either verbally or physically. Your dog may see you as the reason he is no longer being abused. When you leave, your dog may think he is no longer protected from possible abuse. In this case, the dog views you as a safe haven. It feels safe when you are present. This can cause your dogs anxiety to rise when you are gone.
Lifestyle changes, such as moving to a new city or being left alone for too long, may also trigger separation anxiety. This problem can affect many pets, not just dogs. It can also occur in cats, hamsters, or parrots. Simply put, theyre afraid of being left alone, and any change in the familys routine can trigger its symptoms.
Knowing how to help a dog with separation anxiety can save its life. Just imagine what could happen if your beloved friend escapes the house or injures itself. Thus, its crucial to identify the symptoms of separation anxiety and take the proper steps needed to prevent or treat this condition.
Signs Of Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety might learn their persons predeparture cueslike putting on a certain uniform, making lunch or organizing a briefcaseand begin to exhibit stress responses before their person even leaves.
Once the dog is alone, they might exhibit any or all of the following hallmarks of separation anxiety:
Pacing: Dogs that are panicked by their persons departure might be unable to settle down and might resort to walking back and forth repeatedly.
Vocalization: Barking and howling are common canine responses to isolation, but dogs with separation anxiety might continue vocalizing the entire time theyre alone.
Loss of appetite: Separation anxiety can cause even the most food-motivated dog to ignore treats and bones.
Destruction: Many dogs suffering from separation anxiety destroy small household itemslike the remote control or pillowsor resort to large-scale destruction, like tearing through furniture, walls, doors or windows.
Elimination: Dogs that are house-trained might have accidents while alone, including diarrhea.
Drooling: Some stressed dogs drool excessively and wind up with a soaked chin and chest.
Escape: Dogs with severe separation anxiety might be able to escape confinement, which can result in injuries.
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Consider Calling In Outside Help
If you absolutely have to leave your dog home alone for hours at a time, it may be worthwhile to hire a dog walker or look into a doggy daycare service.
That way, your dog will get much-needed interaction and exercise, and they wont feel like theyre being abandoned every time you walk out the door.
This option is expensive but it may be your best bet. Plus, if your dog is already tuckered out when you get home, it may just allow you to get some R& R after work.
What Causes Separation Anxiety
It’s not fully understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and others don’t. But remember, your dog’s behaviors are part of a panic response. Your dog isn’t trying to punish you! They just want you to come home!
These are some of the scenarios that can trigger separation anxiety:
- Being left alone for the first time.
- Being left alone when accustomed to constant human contact.
- Suffering a traumatic event, such as time away from you in a boarding kennel.
- Change in the family’s routine or structure, or the loss of a family member or other pet.
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What Exactly Is Separation Anxiety
Dogs are social animals. They naturally want company, whether this may be from a human or another dog.
This means that life can seem quite difficult for them when they are left alone, leading to them becoming extremely anxious.
This anxiety can manifest in a number of different ways, with the most common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs being:
Going to the toilet in the house, even if the dog is toilet trained
Destructive behaviors, such as chewing, digging or destroying items around the house
Pacing around the house
Escaping, whether this may be from a cage or from the house itself
Excessive barking, whining or howling
As you can see, separation anxiety isnt much fun for your dog. It causes so much distress to both dog and owner, making this a problem that needs to be solved quickly.
Treatments For Canine Separation Anxiety
It has been suggested that adding another animal, such as another dog, to the household may help dogs with separation-related behavior problems to cope with absences from their owner.38,39 However, evidence suggests that the presence of another dog in the household does not prevent another dog from developing separation-related problems.9,11,14
Owners may respond to the separation-related problem behaviors of their dogs by confining the dog to a crate. Some authors have recommended this approach because once the dog is accustomed to the crate they rarely engage in the stress-related behaviors exhibited by dogs that have free access during periods of separation from their owner.40 However, others have found that dogs left in crates or cages while at home alone are no less likely to display separation-related problem behaviors than dogs that have free access to the home.14 In fact, confining a dog with separation anxiety to a crate can increase lip licking,11 a response consistent with stress,41 and dogs can injure themselves in attempts to escape from the crate.39
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Finding A Qualified Trainer
I highly recommend finding a certified separation anxiety trainer if you can swing it. I recommend CSATs in particular because they undergo an intensive training program that focuses on treating separation anxiety using the methods that Ive discussed here. I also recommend working with SA Pro Trainers. They have to complete an in depth-course and are assessed by CSAT Julie Naismith before they are granted the SA Pro Trainer certificate.
If you have a positive reinforcement trainer that youd like to work with, I suggest asking them how they address separation anxiety cases. Youll want someone who uses systematic desensitization to departures and never trains with aversive tools like a bark collar. I have found that the hardest aspects of separation anxiety training are reading body language and staying motivated. A CSAT or an SA Pro Trainer are a second pair of eyes to make sure your dog isnt stressed, and they can help you stay on track!
There are also a few programs that are self-guided to help you get started with training on your own. The ones I know about are Mission Possible, Home Alone: Treating Separation Anxiety, and Subthreshold Training.
I also recommend Julie Naismiths book, Be Right Back. Its a great starting place for owners who have dogs with separation anxiety. She provides some sample training plans, as well!
You can follow Logans work and her adventures with her dog, JJ, on .
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Before You Leave The House Take Your Dog For A Walk
Start your day by taking your dog for a brisk walk. To make the walk even more rigorous, use a dog backpack with extra weight in it. Then reward your dogs calm-submissive energy with food and water. Some dogs may need to rest before eating, but all dogs can benefit from hydration. The idea is to leave your dog in quiet, resting mode while you are away.
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Other Problems That Can Cause Barking
Illness or InjuryDogs sometimes bark in response to pain or a painful condition. Before attempting to resolve your dogs barking problem, please have your dog examined by a veterinarian to rule out medical causes.
Excessive barking due to separation anxiety occurs only when a dogs caretaker is gone or when the dog is left alone. Youll usually see at least one other separation anxiety symptom as well, like pacing, destruction, elimination, depression or other signs of distress. For more information about this problem, please see our article, .
Leaving Your Dog To ‘crying It Out’ Means Suffering In Silence
Some dog training guides may suggest letting a dog ‘cry it out’. This technique, whilst practised widely, is neurologically damaging. Here’s why:
- Dogs and puppies left to cry it out will only learn that being alone is terrifying.
- Every time your dog becomes highly distressed, stress hormones occur in the body which can take days to reduce. This can cause negative, long-term effects on your dog’s body and mental state.
- Some will sadly learn that calling for their owner to come back doesn’t work, so they learn to suffer in silence.
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How Do I Know When To Increase Duration For The Next Training Session
If your dog is super chilled out and bored-looking during training , then you can progress to the next step. Dont jump in duration too quickly though! When you are under a few minutes, your goal duration increases from one session to the next should be only 10-30 second increments. Once you start acing longer durations then you can start jumping by a minute or so. Once you reach about thirty minutes or so, you can try increasing the goal duration by about five minutes, and so on. I know this seems like such small steps, but progress will be faster if we go slow and respect our dogs pace.
Create A Training Plan For Your Session
You will want to have a plan for each training session that maps out how many departure reps you plan to do and how long each rep will be. For your first SA training session, you will use your baseline to help you build that plan. We will explain what you should write out ahead of time in step five below.
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Teach Your Dog How To Be Alone
Its hard to blame a dog that gets anxious and stressed when theyre alone, especially if theyve never been left alone before. This often happens when someone works from home and then begins working outside of the home, or if a puppy was brought home at the beginning of summer and then the children go back to school in the fall.
Dogs love companionship, and theres nothing like having a dog stick by your side throughout the day. However, life happens. At some point your dog will need to be left alone, even if its just while you run to the grocery store. You want to start getting your dog used to being alone so that when this happens, they dont become anxious or panicked.
Comfort Place And Attention
Your dog needs to have a place to go when you leave where she feels safe and secure. Start teaching her a go to your bed command and praise and reward her when she does. Give her lots of attention and love when she is lying in her bed. In fact, you should make this the only place where she gets this kind of attention . She will soon find it very reassuring to be in her bed.
Resist giving your dog attention whenever she demands it. Ignore her when she comes to you and nudges your hand to be petted. Give her attention on your terms, not hers.
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