Separation Anxiety

The most common signs of separation anxiety include:

  • digging
  • chewing
  • scratching at doors or windows
  • howling
  • barking and crying
  • urination and defecation (even house-trained dogs).

Why do dogs suffer separation anxiety?

The reasons for separation anxiety are not fully known. Some dogs suffer this condition while others do not. It is important to realise that the dog has a behavioural condition and is not punishing the carer for leaving. Destructive behaviour and soiling the house are a response to panic, and many dogs that are brought into shelters suffer this condition.

When does separation anxiety occur?

  • When a dog is accustomed to constant human contact and companionship, and is suddenly left at home alone for the first time
  • Following a long interval such as a vacation where the carer and dog were constantly together
  • After a period spent in a shelter
  • After a change in the family’s routine or new house/environment
  • When a new pet or person moves in

How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?

  • The behaviour occurs primarily when the dog is left alone
  • The dog follows you from room to room whenever you’re at home
  • They display frantic greeting behaviours
  • The behaviour always occurs when they are left alone regardless of length of time
  • The dog reacts with excitement, depression or anxiety to your preparations to leave the house
  • They dislike spending time outside alone

Training your dog to become independent

  • Keep arrivals and departures low key. Ignore your dog for the first ten minutes before greeting them calmly
  • Leave your dog with an article of your clothing that smells like you
  • Have other people walk, feed and spend time with your dog

Severe cases of separation anxiety

Use a systematic approach and practice leaving and returning:

  1. Begin by leaving as normal (getting car keys, grabbing your bag or coat, etc.) then sit back down. Repeat this step until your dog does not show signs of distress
  2. Next leave the house by stepping outside, leaving the door open, then return
  3. Finally step outside and close the door, then return immediately
  4. Proceed gradually step by step until your dog is not distressed by these steps. If anxiety occurs return to the previous step
  5. When your dog can tolerate you being on the other side of the door for several seconds, begin with short-term absences and return
  6. Make your leaving and returning low key
  7. If your dog shows no sign of distress gradually increase the length of time you are gone

Practice as much as possible and scatter the training throughout the day. Once your dog can handle short absences (30–90 min) they should be able to handle longer intervals.

Other methods and short-term solutions

  • Teaching your dog to ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ using positive reinforcement will teach your dog that they can stay in one place while you go into the next room. When you return praise them quietly
  • For interim solutions consult your veterinarian about medications that may be helpful
  • Take your dog to doggy day care
  • Leave your dog with a friend or neighbour that they know
  • Let your neighbours know you are working on the condition if they have complained to you about it

What not to do

  • Do not punish your dog. This may lead to an increase in anxiety as they are getting the attention they want
  • Do not get another pet as a companion. Your dog is anxious because of the separation from you, not because of being alone
  • Do not lock your dog up. Your dog will still have an anxiety response and may injure itself trying to get out