If you think it’s hard on you when you have to leave your dog at home to go to work, it’s even harder on your dog! A lot of dogs can’t bear the thought of being without their owners, even for a few hours. They chew up furniture, shoes, and other items around the house, bark or howl all the time, and they might even “do their business” on your beautiful rug.
Here’s some information on the signs your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety, and what you might be able to do about it.
What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
The term “separation anxiety” means exactly what it sounds like. It means your dog is anxious because you’re out of the house. When you leave, it can trigger a wide range of behaviors in your dog, such as drooling or attempts to escape (which can often lead to a serious injury). While some pet owners believe these behaviors are signs that their dogs haven’t been trained, that might not be the case.
Some dogs are naturally anxious, while others become that way due to some sort of trigger, like a sudden change in their environment.1
Some dogs start showing the signs of separation anxiety long before their owners ever leave the house. They might become agitated and start acting out, like grabbing a shoe or a toy and shaking it violently. Some might seem depressed, refusing to move and looking forlorn. There are some dogs with separation anxiety that will actually do whatever they can to try to keep their owners from going out the door. When you get back home, the dog will act like you’ve been gone for years.
The good news is, there are several behavior modification techniques available to help with separation anxiety in dogs. These techniques help make it easier for your dog to relax when you leave. Some dogs get to a point where they even find a way to enjoy themselves while you’re gone, but the typical goal is to get yours to at least tolerate separation.
Why Does Separation Anxiety Occur?
There are a lot of theories about why some dogs experience separation anxiety, while others don’t. But that’s all they are – theories. No one knows the exact reason why this problem happens.2 Rescue dogs may have separation anxiety more than those raised in the same home since they were puppies.3
Here are some of the contributing factors to separation anxiety:
- Moving to a new home – Relocating from one home to another can be stressful for people. And a dog is no exception… even going from home to a “doggy daycare” can lead to separation anxiety. Going from a home to a shelter can also lead to separation anxiety in dogs.
- A sudden change in who’s living in the house – Someone leaving the home could lead to separation anxiety in dogs. It could be a child moving away to college, or the passing of a family member.
- A sudden schedule change – A lot of dogs – like a lot of their owners – are creatures of habit. If, for example, you’ve been working from home and get an office job, that can create a major problem for your pooch.4
Are Certain Breeds More Prone to Separation Anxiety?
All breeds of dogs can suffer from separation anxiety. There are a few that might be more susceptible to anxiety issues, however. They include:
Australian Shepherds –
Dogs belonging to this breed are loyal to their owners and come from a herding background. As a result, they’re used to having a job. So, when they’re home alone, not only can they become anxious, they can also very easily get bored. That’s a perfect recipe for separation anxiety in dogs.5
Bichon Frises –
Bichon Frises are usually lapdogs who are almost always with their owners. When they’re separated, that could lead to major issues.6
German Shepherds –
These beautiful, loyal companions are popular in the United States. German Shepherds are known for the love they show their owners. Unfortunately, they’re also very energetic and tend to use that energy negatively when left alone.7
German Shorthaired Pointers –
This is another dog bred for working and activity. As one of the more popular hunting breeds, German Shorthairs are usually with their owners throughout the day – they hate being alone.8
Labrador Retriever –
One of the most popular breeds in the U.S., Labrador Retrievers form strong bonds with their families. They’re affectionate and love to be around people. When left alone, they can go through severe bouts of separation anxiety.9
The Vizsla was first bred for hunting in Hungary. They are among the breeds known as “Velcro” dogs, because they stick to their humans. Vizslas love to be out in the woods on the hunt – and hate to be on their own, at home. They will often howl, bark, and chew on anything they can get a hold of to express their displeasure and loneliness.10
Signs Your Dog Might Have Separation Anxiety
There are a lot of different types of behaviors associated with separation anxiety in dogs. Some of the common ones include:
While some dogs mope around when their owners leave the house, others take out their frustration any way they can. They might chew on a pillow, a shoe, or some other household item.
Howling and Barking
Dogs with separation anxiety will sometimes let everyone in the neighborhood know about it. They do this by always howling or barking.
Pacing throughout the House
When left alone, some dogs will walk throughout the home, following the same path in the same pattern. Some will go back and forth in a straight line, while others will walk in a circular pattern. Like most behaviors associated with separation anxiety, dogs usually don’t do this when their owners are home.
Trying to Escape
This is a destructive behavior, and a dangerous one. It can lead to a serious injury, such as a broken tooth, a damaged paw, or worse. For example, a dog with separation anxiety might try to get out of the house by chewing on a windowsill or scratching at the frame of a door.
Defecation and Urination
When separated from mom or dad, a dog might act out by urinating or defecating throughout the house. If he doesn’t do this in the presence of his owner, the problem is more than likely separation anxiety. If he does, then he might have some sort of medical issue, or he needs to brush up on his potty training.11
Is it Separation Anxiety or Something Else?
If your dog has an accident when you leave the house, it might not be separation anxiety but rather, a loss of bladder control incontinence. Many dogs with this problem don’t even know they’re doing something wrong – they will sometimes even urinate while they’re sleeping.12
There are many different potential reasons why this happens, including a weakened sphincter due to age, a urinary tract infection, kidney disease, a bladder stone, or diabetes.13 Some female dogs will urinate because of hormonal problems.14 It’s important that you see your vet to rule out a medical issue before trying to fix what you think is separation anxiety.
If your dog is exhibiting behavioral problems when you’re away, there can sometimes be reasons other than separation anxiety.
Here are some examples of behavior issues and their possible causes:
Urination – Sometimes canine incontinence is a medical issue, but sometimes it occurs because your pooch is just excited to see you. It could also be due to incomplete or inconsistent potty training. Some dogs will urinate inside the house because they’re marking their scent.15
Boredom – A dog needs a great deal of stimulation, otherwise, they can become bored. When some dogs get bored, they act out. They’re not going through separation anxiety – they just don’t have anything else to do.16
Barking and howling – If a dog barks or howls all day when you’re out of the house, that could be due to some sort of unfamiliar trigger. This could be an odd sight or an odd sound.17
Dealing With Mild Separation Anxiety
The type of approach your vet may recommend for separation anxiety will depend on the severity of the problem. For example, if your dog is only showing mild symptoms, your vet might recommend a form of treatment known as “counterconditioning.” This is a way to replace something that causes anxiety or stress with something that your dog enjoys. He’ll realize that the things he used to fear could actually become something he loves.18
One example is leaving your dog a toy filled with food that will take them quite a while – about 30 minutes – to finish.
You can fill it with stuff they love, like cream cheese, canned or dry dog food, or even peanut butter. Just don’t add too much, because that could cause weight gain or disrupt digestion.
This approach will usually only be effective with dogs experiencing mild separation anxiety. If your pup is showing more severe symptoms, they’re not going to eat anything once you leave the house.19
What to Do if Your Dog has a Severe Problem
If your dog is having extreme separation anxiety, the first thing you should do is ask your vet to recommend a behaviorist or trainer with an extensive background in helping dogs get over their problem. An expert can help you map out an effective plan that will defeat this problem once and for all.
An approach that often works is to change your routine before you leave your house.
If you tend to do the same things over and over before you walk out the door, your dog picks up on those cues. They know when you’re about to leave, and might start acting in an agitated manner as a result. Your dog might start whining or pacing when you get dressed, or put on your makeup. And they’ll definitely know something’s up when you grab the car keys.20
You can also show your dog that because you do these things, that doesn’t always mean you’re about to leave them alone. Show your dog some “pre-departure” cues a few times a day, and see if that helps to calm them down. For example, grab your keys and then sit down to watch some TV or read.21
It’s important to note, though, that if you’ve had your dog for a few years, he or she knows your pre-departure routine. It’s going to take a long time before your dog no longer associates those cues with you immediately leaving. It could take going through these cues many times a day for several weeks before you get your desired effect. You’ll know you’re making progress when you perform the pre-departure routine and your dog doesn’t show signs of being anxious.
Other Tips to Reduce Anxiety
Here are a few things you can try to help reduce your dog’s separation anxiety:
1.Take your dog to work with you
This would help make life easier for your dog during the week, of course, but finding a workplace where you can bring animals might be tricky.22 If this isn’t an option, see if a neighbor, friend, or family member would be willing to stay with your dog during the day. If that’s not possible, hire a pet sitter. Most dogs won’t experience separation anxiety as long as there’s someone with them.
2. Don’t feel guilty
Dog owners often have feelings of guilt when leaving their beloved pets home alone. That’s understandable. You care about your pup, and you want the best for them. But you’ve got to try and put those feelings aside when it’s time to step out that door. Stay calm and assertive, projecting positive energy.23
3. Keep your dog occupied
If your dog is tired, they won’t be as prone to going through separation anxiety. But if your dog is bored? That’s going to be a problem. Try taking your pup for a brisk walk through the neighborhood about 30 minutes before you leave to tire him or her out. Or, play with your dog before it’s time to go. If you can take your pooch for a walk, try taking different routes for variety. Your dog will love checking out the new sights and smells, and that could help him or her relax more while you’re gone.
You might even try hiding some of your dog’s food (dry food, preferably) throughout the house. That way, your pooch will try to find them. Don’t make finding that kibble too hard, however. Your dog could become frustrated, on top of being anxious.24
4. The “goodbye” routine
You might be tempted to give your dog some extra hugs and kisses before leaving for the day. But that could actually increase anxiety. Try to refrain from touching, talking to, or even looking at your dog as you go through the door. That could send the message that your dog shouldn’t get upset about your leaving. It’s another part of the regular routine. But if you can’t bring yourself to leave your dog without giving them some affection, try to give out the hugs and kisses well before you leave.25
What You Should Never Do
As frustrating as separation anxiety can be, it’s important that you never punish or yell at your dog. The dog is not misbehaving out of spite, or being disobedient. Your pooch is upset. Punishing your dog in any way could make the problem even worse.
Some people will try and bring home another pet to reduce the “incumbent” dog’s anxiety, but that’s usually not an answer, either. Your dog is upset because you’re gone, not necessarily because they’re alone. And while obedience training is never a bad idea, it won’t do a lot of good for this particular problem. Your dog’s problem isn’t obedience – it’s anxiety.26
One Last Note
If you own a dog and you’re at your wits’ end when it comes to separation anxiety, don’t get mad at your companion. Get to a vet and determine the best possible plan to finally end this problem for good.
Learn More About Doggie Behaviors:
Why Does My Dog Lick Their Butt & “Private” Areas
Why Does My Dog Burp All The Time? (Causes and Solutions)
3 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Licking The Carpet