Does my dog have Separation Anxiety?
Does your dog bark, whine or scratch at the door when you leave? Do you come home to destruction or has your dog even toileted inside? If so your dog may be showing separation-related behaviour or even anxiety.
'Separation-related behaviour' is the label used to describe behaviours that occur when dogs are left by their owners. These behaviours can be related to fear, anxiety, over-attachment, or lack of stimulation, so identifying the motivation behind the behaviour can help us help your dog
Distressed dogs can show signs such as:
- Lack of appetite
- Escape behaviours (scratching at doors, destroying crates)
- Depression, lethargy
- Vocalisation (barking, howling or whining)
- Toileting inside
- Self trauma (licking or chewing themselves)
Dogs experiencing this can do considerable damage to themselves, and your home. Dogs Destruction and elimination may not be related to anxiety but can be very frustrating for pet owners.
To figure out if your dog has separation anxiety, we might ask questions such as:
- Will your dog follow you around when you are home?
- Will they eat without your presence?
- Is your dog ‘needy?’ and ask for attention?
- What does your dog do when you are getting ready to leave the house?
- How do they react when you return home?
As every dog is different, they may show anxiety only when you leave at unexpected times, or certain times of the day. They may show it only when a certain person leaves, or when left completely alone. Some dogs only show anxiety when confined, others do better when crated. Videoing your departures and when your dog is alone can be very helpful!
Separation Anxiety FAQs
Q: Will crating help my dog with separation anxiety?
A: In some cases, if introduced slowly and the crate is seen as a safe, positive place for them. In others, crating can exacerbate the issue, causing panic related to confinement.
Q: Will getting another dog help our dog with separation anxiety?
A: In some cases a second dog may help alleviate the symptoms of separation anxiety, however this does not directly treat it. A second dog may have no effect, and may create other issues within the home.
Q: Will giving my dogs food toys help with separation anxiety?
A: Not if they are experiencing true anxiety. If they are experiencing boredom, increasing exercise and giving them enrichment toys can help keep their minds busy during the time you are gone and direct their energy towards preferred activities!
Q: Can medication help my dog?
A: Medication can be beneficial, however is unlikely to resolve the issues without a behaviour modification program. As a Veterinary Behaviourist, we can discuss this as an option.
Q: What other things might help my dog then?
A: Some supplementary tools, such as Adaptil pheromone (collar, spray or diffuser) and thundershirts may be helpful to your Doggo.
Q: I’ve told my dog off for destroying his bed, but he doesn’t stop destroying things when I’m gone. How do I stop him destroying things when I’m not there?
A: If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, punishing your dog for his destruction when you get home (growling at them, rubbing his nose in it, shouting or even smacking them) could increase his anxiety and may make things worse. He may stop coming when called, or avoid you as a result.
We need to ensure your dog feels safe and comfortable when you aren’t around- then the destruction (or other unwanted behaviours) will decrease rapidly.
Q: So how do we make our dogs comfortable with us leaving?
A: Once we have set up the environment best for your dog, we ensure that departure-cues such as picking up the keys or turning on the car become less predictive of you leaving. Then we start desensitising them to your departure and slowly increase the time they are left alone.
To summarise, separation related behaviours are common in dogs, and are a common reason for relinquishment to shelters and rehoming. However, with environmental changes, medication (in some cases) and a specific plan to help your dog cope with your departure and being left alone, most dogs are able to make significant progress. Desensitisation plans take time but are the most effective way to re-teach your dog that it is ok for you to leave and that there is no need to worry...
As you can imagine, every dog's plan looks different and takes a different length of time, so getting a behaviourist on board can really help.
Concerned your dog is experiencing separation anxiety?
Get in contact today to start making a plan to help!
Veterinary Behaviour Services NZ- Working to help you help your animals.