Vet advice: How to stop separation anxiety in dogs

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Just like us humans, anxiety in dogs can be set off by various triggers. Fireworks, visits to the vet, and holidaying in new places are common causes of anxiety for dogs. Separation from their pet parent, especially post-lockdown, is one of the main reasons and is on the rise. After spending many months together, returning to work and school for humans means our fur family will have less company at home during the day and needs to regain confidence when alone. 

What triggers separation anxiety in dogs?

The bond that you develop with your dog or puppy can be incredibly strong because they’re social animals, and especially now after months of having you home with them. Sometimes so much so that they can become anxious if you’re gone for too long. Once your puppy is successfully toilet trained, you shouldn’t leave them home alone for more than 1–2 hours or a maximum of 4 hours for adult dogs – any longer and loneliness can trigger separation anxiety. If you will not be working from home, ask someone to check in. Alternatively, if you can’t pop home during lunch, you can opt for a dog walker or dog sitter.

Tell-tale signs of separation anxiety in dogs

  • Becoming highly distressed and hypervigilant when you leave the room, and hanging around doors, exits or where they last saw you.
  • Attention-seeking behaviour, such as whining and barking excessively (we’ve got a guide to help stop that).
  • Displaying destructive behaviour (e.g. inappropriate puppy biting and chewing).
  • Not eating their food (common when dog boarding).
  • Excessive yawning, pacing, and panting at bedtime

How to manage separation anxiety in puppies

Build their confidence early on: learning how to train a puppy to be left alone can be tricky – but it’s the key to a happy adult dog that is content alone. Build their confidence and prevent puppy separation anxiety by slowly introducing periods of separation. Follow these steps if you think your dog needs more confidence while you’re out:

  • Walk away, but stay in the same room. If they stay where they are and remain relaxed, go back to them and reward them with some attention and dog treats.
  • Leave the room for a few seconds. Again, if they remain where they are and seem relaxed, go back into the room and reward them.
  • Repeat leaving the room a few times, gradually increasing the time you’re out of the room to a few minutes and up to half an hour. Reward them every time you come back. Leaving a KONG toy is a great way to positively distract them and reward them at the same time.
  • If working from home, try working in a separate room.
  • Leave the house for a few minutes and repeat. Calmly rewarding them every time you come back is an important part of preventing separation anxiety in dogs.

It’s not a big deal: introducing mentally enriching puzzle toys and scent games can help to teach independence, encourage problem-solving and keep the mind active. Toys they can destroy are also fantastic for this age. You can also consider automatic dog food feeders for when you’re out.

Encourage independence: making a fuss every time you leave your puppy or dog alone is not recommended. If you treat the situation as calmly as you can, your dog is more likely to feel calm as well. The same rings true for if you come home and find that they’ve been destructive in your absence. Your dog will not be able to associate their bad behaviour with any punishment. In fact, punishing them could lead to them becoming even more anxious. Positive reinforcement is a far more effective approach, so make sure to have plenty of treats on hand.

Crates should be their safe haven: it may sound counterintuitive, but crate training a puppy with separation anxiety might just be the answer you’re looking for. Turning their dog crate into a safe haven – a comfy dog bed, a choice of safe toys to play with, and the odd treat – can help their anxiety. This will create a space they take themselves too when they’re feeling anxious; never shut a puppy in against their will.

Crates should be their safe haven: much like the diffuser mentioned above, pheromone collars, like this one for puppies by ADAPTIL®, can also be used alongside other calming techniques. Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) helps our dogs to cope with stressful situations. By using a collar, there is always DAP in the air, both at home or on a walk. Anxiety supplements and anxiety treats can also be used in conjunction with pheromones to help create a happy environment for your pup.

How to manage separation anxiety in adult dogs

Go at their pace: no matter the changes you want to introduce, it’s important to take things at your dog’s pace. This could be as small as standing on the other side of a closed door from them, and building up from there. Going slowly will get them used to changes; introducing these too quickly could cause their anxiety to escalate.

Start while you’re still at home: before you return to office-working for the majority of the week, get your dog used to being alone in their favourite room while you’re still WFH. Step out the room while they’re distracted with a toy, and come back while your dog’s still relaxed – don’t make a fuss, make sure you remain passive. If this goes well, then try this method with the front door.

Designate a safe zone: similarly to puppies and crates, a safe zone needs to be somewhere in the house that the dog can truly feel is their own. A snuggly bed, their favourite toys and water bowl will encourage them to use this space when they’re feeling anxious. Make sure there is also space for your dog to stand up and stretch.

Mentally tire them out: simulate a morning-leaving-for-work routine by picking up your keys, putting your coat and shoes on. Progress to actually leaving the house for a few minutes, and gradually extend that time. If any part of that routine stresses your dog out, then try adapting it to make them comfortable.

Test runs: rather than any heightened activities that will rile them up, let them entertain themselves with toys that promote mental stimulation. If they’re tired when you leave, then they’re more likely to relax.

Our articles are not a replacement for face-to-face vet advice. It’s important to consult with your vet on a regular basis to raise any pet concerns that you may have.

Is the ADAPTIL® Plug-in Diffuser & Refill a good option?

So, how can ADAPTIL® help? Quite easily, as it turns out. The Plug-in Diffuser & Refill mimics a pheromone produced by lactating females, which promote a sense of well-being and reassurance. The calming effect has been positively noted on anxious adult dog behaviours such as excessive whining and barking, and destructive chewing.

Of course, this product won’t sort out your dog’s separation anxiety issues on it’s own. It’s best used in conjunction with our training tips above.

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