Managing dog separation anxiety

Some of the most common behavior problems in dogs are triggered by separation anxiety. Because dogs are pack animals, they can get anxious when left alone for too long. Some dogs will resort to excessive barking, whining, or destructive chewing to relieve their frustration. Focus on your dog’s feelings of isolation and you’ll likely cure him of other problems in the process.

Causes of separation anxiety in dogs

Knowing the cause of your dog’s anxiety will give you a better chance of changing his behavior. The following are several reasons why dogs may become anxious:

Early separation from mother

If your dog was taken from his mother early in his development, he may have a fear of abandonment.

Trauma from a kennel or dog shelter

Spending time in a kennel or a dog shelter often deprives a dog of his natural pack instinct and could be a traumatic experience that leads to separation anxiety.

Spending too much time with your dog

If you spend a lot of time with your dog, for instance during a vacation period, he could become depressed when things go back to normal.

Changes in routine

Anything that alters your dog’s daily routine, like a new marriage or switching work schedules, could result in separation anxiety problems.

Common symptoms

Every dog has his own way of expressing separation anxiety. The most common indicators usually occur 20 to 45 minutes after you leave the house. Symptoms may include:

  • Barking, howling or whining
  • Excessive scratching and digging
  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • Urinating and defecating in the house even if housebroken
  • Destructive chewing
  • Following you from room to room when you return home
  • Long, overly excited greetings

Treatments for separation anxiety

A few simple changes can quickly make your dog comfortable with being home alone.

Exercise your dog every day

Lack of exercise is the most common cause of separation anxiety. Before you leave the house, engage your dog in a regimen of exercise and obedience commands for at least 20 minutes to wear him out both mentally and physically. The idea is to make him too tired to cause problems.

Designate an area for your dog while you’re away

Place your dog in a puppy-proof area while you’re away, such as a hallway or small room. Put him in this designated spot several times during the day. If he starts to whine, give him a firm “shhh!” until he quits. Once he’s quiet, walk away and ignore him.

Ignore your dog when coming and going

Ignore your dog for at least 10 minutes before leaving and after you arrive home. Any affection during this time will only build his insecurities about being alone.

Practice coming and going

Place your dog in his area and ignore him for 10 minutes. Grab your keys, open the door, and step outside. Wait thirty seconds then go back inside, close the door, and put your keys down. Do this several times during the day gradually increasing the time you’re away.

Provide a den when your dog is ready

After your dog calms down and is fairly content with being home alone, introduce a crate to increase his comfort level. Put some blankets and an old shirt inside and keep the door open to allow easy access.

What not to do

There are several things you should never do when dealing with dog separation anxiety.

  • Don’t punish for the symptoms. It’ll only make your dog more anxious.
  • Don’t get another pet. Your dog’s anxious because he’s separated from you, the pack leader, not because he’s alone.
  • Don’t crate your dog until he’s ready. Confining him before he’s ready could make his symptoms worse.