Separation anxiety can be difficult to define because we are trying to figure out how a dog is feeling and since dogs can’t tell us how they are feeling, we are left to interpret that leaves a lot of room for error.
How to you do your best to determine if your dog has separation anxiety. Well, my experienced dogs with this issue will typically follow you around everywhere or whine or frantically bark when you are out of reach, see excessive repetitive, barking, whining and pacing seem to have a way of calming many dogs when they are anxious.
They may also have some involuntary physiological responses like dilated pupils are drooling or panting or even sweaty paws. They might attempt often to break out of their confinement to concentrate their destructive chewing or digging behavior at exits and windows.
And in extreme cases, they don’t really care if you leave a toy or a bone stuffed with peanut butter behind and you might notice increased rates of potty accidents, too. It’s even probable that many dogs are predisposed to separation anxiety.
Why they have such that separation anxiety symptoms?
I mean, think about it, we selectively bred them to interact just with us whether that be for companionship or for a working partnership. And, it’s hard to fault our dogs for wanting to be with us all the time that probably means you have a wonderful bond with them, which is so important.
Understand though that just because your dogs bark, chew things or have potty accidents when you’re away does not mean that he necessarily has separation anxiety. That actually is very common with puppies but it’s also a sign of anxiety with many dogs as well. but for whatever reason, he’s anxious. Maybe he’s looking for his dad, maybe he’s just more.
A majority of dogs who do these things, they are just bored or if not, probably house trained yet. If your dog is under five months old, much like puppy is over here, your dog is probably meeting a lot of the symptoms. But, this is really normal for puppies and you want to do your best to avoid having them spend too much time alone at that age.
A study about dog’s separation anxiety
A study in the Journal of the AVMA was designed to look at risk factors and behaviors associated with separation anxiety and had some pretty interesting results.
The study looked at the records from the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine behavior clinic of 400 dogs. 200 of them had pre-identified separation anxiety defined in this study as showing signs including destruction and appropriate elimination or excessive vocalization that occurred only when their person was absent. And, 200 control dogs.
Dogs that acted hyper attached by following their people around excessively or starting getting anxious when they noticed a portrait cues like putting on shoes or getting keys and getting excessively excited to greet you upon return or significantly associated with separation anxiety.
Many have wondered, including myself, if a dog being separated from their mom at young age might contribute towards some having separation anxiety. That hypothesis, however, was not supported by this study.
Most often resolving separation anxiety comes down to making sure your dog is getting plenty of mental and physical stimulation along with preparing them for being alone ahead of time long-term as most dogs mature and adapt to our way of life, they tend to get more comfortable when you leave them alone.
But, if you want to speed up that process, exercise them regularly. A study in the journal Plos One found that the largest environmental factor significantly associated with separation anxiety was the amount of daily exercise a dog received.
If your dog has a serious separation physical outlet, they are a lot more likely to just chill when you’re gone. Giving your dog a proper outlet for their excess energy just before you leave them alone, maybe all you need to do for immediate relief. Dogs are incredibly smart and they have a way of picking up those very subtle clues that indicate that they’re about to be left alone.
Focus on identifying that first trigger that really clues them in that, you’re getting ready to leave routine is underway. Once you identify these early clues, you want to start to condition your dog to look forward to these events.
So, instead of “Oh no, you’re leaving”, we want “Oh boy, I get something I want”. We are trying to get him to associate the sound of the keys with getting a good treat.
How to exercise a dog with separation anxiety
Pick up your keys, jiggle them, drop them and look at it. If your dog starts looking at you, it seems like he’s already starting to make that association. Once you’re done this exercise for a few minutes, you might then want to start doing something that’s more realistic. Might be your keys are on your table, jiggle them and drop them on the table. Follow your dog’s behavior and treat for the good one.
It’s important to do these when you’re not completely focused on your dog so, when you’re just chilling out, watching TV or whatever, pick up the keys, jiggle and give your dog a treat.
Let’s pick your keys frequently when you’re not actually going to leave and you provide a good consequence, you dog isn’t going to associate they keys with you leaving every time. and so, once, they are getting that then you might pick up your keys, walk towards the door and just walk back to your couch, or somewhere in your house.
Sometimes, you need to do that to let him know that you are not going to leave every time. These are the kind of exercise you do really early on in the training process that are very short-term and just start to give you a little bit of traction. And, even if your dog isn’t anxious, you should still do exercises to keep these problems from arising in the first place.
Maybe your dog tends to figure out that when you put on your jacket that you’re about to go somewhere. Sometimes, I put on my jacket, I just sit down and hang out. This is how you get them feeling good about you picking up your keys or putting on your jackets or your shoes or whatever.
So, if your furry associates you’re going to work routine with getting something great and you don’t always leave. Then, you’re well on your way to reducing their anxiety.
Do this exercise when you have free time at home. Try picking keys, put on your jacket, go out, shut the door, and follow the situation. If your dog whines a little bit, immediately open the door and treat him. Don’t let his separation anxiety raised up significantly. Exercise him gradually because you should makeup your mind that this is one of the hardest and it takes time and patience.
You can also use some toys to distract that anxiety of your dog. But don’t just throw it when you’re leaving. Let’s give him a bone with peanut butter on the backside when he’s not anxious, let him explore it and play with it happily.
You want him to like these ahead of time. And, while he’s playing with the toy, try jiggling keys. One way to measure success is that he continues to engage with this bone while you are out of the room for a moment. If he rises his head towards the door but then, back to play with his toys, that’s a great sign of he feeling comfortable.
Let’s come back right before he starts barking and doing all those other things that dogs with separation anxiety do. Let your dog enjoy the bone for short periods of time throughout the day and do this really often.
The next thing you will want to do is get your dog really comfortable with spending some time alone, in the area where you are going to leave them when you do eventually leave. But, keep in mind, dogs with extreme separation anxiety don’t do very well and crates most of the time.
Instead dog poop a part of your house where your dog can’t really do any damage, you can tolerate accidents. Put them in that area and then, let them out before they become anxious. By that way, they slowly get comfortable with being in that area. In the beginning, you might do this literally have them alone for seconds at a time.
By easing your dog in to this whole idea of being alone, we’re trying to make it easier for them to accept us being gone for longer and longer periods of time. When you come back, pick up the bone so now, he’s going to look forward to that bone. The next time, it comes out hopefully. They don’t get me wrong this is easier to say than done because you have to do these things consistently over period of weeks for most dogs. Try to keep this home alone toys like this special so that your dog only has them when they’re actually home alone or when you’re doing training sessions.
Now, if your dog does destroy something while you’re away or otherwise, that’s not their fault. It’s your job to control the environment so don’t punish them for that.
Your dogs seem unusually anxious or this behavior is new, you may want to talk to your vet about a potential underlying medical issue, too. Don’t rush and be prepared to take a step back as necessary. Only you are going to know when the time is right to let your dog have general run of the house.
This process can take a few months in some cases and you may never be able to completely cure your dog separation anxiety in extreme situations. But you can almost certainly reduce it over time if you implement the tips we covered today.
In the meantime, when you ae working through this, it’s a good idea to find alternative to leaving your dog alone like having a friend or relatives spend some time with your dog.