What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a common behavioural problem in dogs that is provoked by the fear of being alone. Dogs are pack animals. They would consider their humans very much members of their pack and for this reason they are afraid of being on their own. They have evolved over many thousands of years to be around humans for the majority of their time. Some dogs become so attached to their humans that any period of time on their own creates extreme stress and anxiety.
How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?
If your dog has separation anxiety there will usually be some telltale signs and symptoms. You may notice these if you have a camera set up or you may return to your home to see some evidence of separation anxiety. This can include:
- Barking, whining or howling
- Excessive salivating
- Chewing or destroying household items
- Scratching at walls and doors
- Attempting to escape from a room or the house.
- Urinating or defecating in the house
Why does my dog have separation anxiety?
It is not fully understood exactly why dogs get separation anxiety. In some dogs it develops after losing a close family member. If your dog has been owned previously by another family or has been adopted from a shelter, it is more likely to experience separation anxiety. The condition may develop through some other minor event, such as a change in your usual schedule or moving to a different house. Regardless of this, it is possible to reduce the levels of anxiety your dog experiences.
What to do if your dog has separation anxiety
There are ways to help your dog to reduce anxiety levels, and some are easier than others. You should avoid leaving your dog alone for more than 2 or 3 hours on a regular basis. On occasion this may be unavoidable and therefore it is always best to make sure you’re prepared.
Change how you leave and enter the house
When you are about to leave the house, anxiety can begin to build for your dog. Any fuss involved can trigger this fear. It could be the fear that you may never return. The best thing you can do is simply leave the house. Don’t make it a big deal. Act like it’s perfectly normal. Similarly, when you re-enter the house, ignore their initial excitement and after a few minutes, give them the attention they crave.
Give your dog puzzle toys
Puzzle toys are designed to be time consuming for your dog. Upon completion of the puzzle, your dog will be rewarded with a treat which is usually in the centre. The scent of the treat will make the puzzle irresistible and it will take their mind off being alone. Whilst they are being kept busy with mental stimulation and physical exertion, they are not taking their energy out on other household items and anxiety levels come down. Another tip is to put an extra special treat in the toy. Make sure you only ever give them this treat for when you leave and enter the house. This will give your a dog positive association instead of the fear they usually have.
Invest in a calming diffuser
Some dogs may respond well to calming diffusers. Adaptil has a diffuser and spray product which releases dog appeasing pheromones into the atmosphere. This has a comforting effect on puppies and adult dogs. It just needs to be plugged into the room where your dog spends most of their time for maximum effectiveness. They can also be ideal for use when fireworks or thunderstorms are making your dog anxious. VioVet have a great range of calming products for dogs, including scents and diffusers.
Put on some classical music
Believe it or not, studies have shown that dogs love to listen to classical music. The study found that stress levels in dogs, measured from their heart rate, saliva and observations, decreased by some margin after hearing classical music. Rather than leaving the house silent, try leaving on a classical playlist or tune in the radio to a classical music channel. It might help to calm your dog and eventually let it fall asleep to the melodic tunes.
Give them plenty of exercise
If you know you’re going out for an extended period of time, walk your dog beforehand. Dogs that don’t exercise frequently enough build up large amounts of energy. They may channel that energy by chewing or destroying household items. This heightens the anxiety your dog will experience making them restless. Plenty of physical exertion will counter this effect and make them more docile when you’ve finally left.
Keep an eye on your dog when you are out
There is a way that you can keep up to date with what your dog is doing whilst you are out. We have a Furbo camera, which we reviewed in a previous blog. Furbo allows you to throw treats to your dog remotely and it has a barking detector which will notify you on your mobile phone when your dog is making lots of noise. You can then view the live feed on the app. Furbo’s unit is high quality and the app works well, although it is expensive, retailing at £249. Whilst they won’t completely solve any anxiety, they do aid you in discovering how your dog reacts to being alone. You are then able to take the appropriate steps to deal with any issues. You can check out Furbo to get more information on their product.
Take a trip to your veterinary practice
If your dog is really experiencing severe separation anxiety then you may need to consult your local vet. It could lead to your dog being prescribed medication, so this may be your last resort after you’ve tried other natural methods. Ideally you need to address the root cause and make behavioural changes, as medication will not necessarily solve any underlying issue. Always consult your vet first if you are concerned about your dog’s behaviour or health.