What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation Anxiety is a habit portrayed by a dog that cannot be left alone, for a period of time, without suffering some kind of distressing behaviour. This can amount to excessive howling, crying, chewing, defecating.
What causes Separation Anxiety?
Separation Anxiety can be triggered by various different things. For instance, if you have had your dog from a puppy, and they have been with you 24/7, or whenever you are home you spend every minute with them; the periods you are not with them they can find it hard to cope without you.
Similarly, dogs that have been mistreated, for instance, been locked away 24 hours a day, and their only human interaction is to throw scraps into their ‘home’; they are likely to suffer separation anxiety when you’re not around as they will associate this with a bad time in their life.
What are some of the signs that indicate Separation Anxiety?
Sometimes separation anxiety is hard to pin point; as obviously the majority of the behaviour takes place when you’re not at home, and therefore not able to see the problem. For instance, if you return home, and you find your dog has messed in the house, you may tell yourself ‘Ah, he mustn’t have gone when we let him out in the garden before we went out’ or ‘we were out slightly longer than usual so she’s not used to holding it in that long’. This may be the case, or it may be that your dog has been stressed with you not being home.
You may get told by your neighbour that they have heard your dog barking/howling but may brush it off as ‘it’s not that loud’ or ‘it doesn’t happen that often’. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
Whenever you leave a room, say leave the sitting room to go to the bathroom, your dog may follow you; and if you close a door on your dog, to stop them following you, they may whine until you come back. This is classic signs of separation anxiety.
*please be aware, these signs are not always signs of separation anxiety; but they are indicators that separation anxiety is present. If you are unsure; please see below on how to check.
How to identify Separation Anxiety
One of the best ways to tell if your dog experience separation anxiety; is to leave the house as you would do normally. Don’t do anything different to what you would usually do.
Wait somewhere out of sight, and silent, so the dog cannot hear your voice or movement (given the fact that dogs have sensitive hearing; depending on how thick your walls or windows are!). Listen for up to 15 minutes as this is usually when your dog will begin to show signs of stress/anxiety. Those who have separation anxiety expelled through vocality, this will become immediately apparent. Noises made will obviously differ; but it can sound as if your dog is very distressed.
Those dogs that don’t will probably look visibly distressed; i.e. heavily panting, sweating, very excited to see you home.
How do I combat Separation Anxiety?
First of all, you need to ask yourself what you do now that is causing the issue?
- Does your dog sleep in your bedroom?
For dogs with Separation Anxiety; this is the first thing you need to combat. If they sleep in the same room as you, getting them to sleep elsewhere can be a chore; but is definitely a winner in the battle against SA! It is hard work, and you will have a few sleepless nights however, the benefits are worth it.
The best way to start is just stopping your dog coming in to the bedroom. It means they can still be near to you, and still see/hear you, but just can’t come in. Set up their bed just outside of the bedroom and encourage them to lie down the usual way you would settle them for bed. Get ready for bed, and each time your dog crosses the thresh of your room, tell them ‘no’ and return them to their bed. Do this until you get into bed. Once in bed, your dog is likely to continue to try coming into the bedroom. Each time, get out of bed, say ‘no’ and march your dog back to their bed. Continue this until he/she stops coming into the bedroom. It is likely to continue for a few hours; but eventually they’ll settle, pushing the boundaries and sitting as close to the door but not inside the room.
Once you have mastered this, you can then move onto keeping them downstairs. Repeat the exact same process as above, but put your dogs bed at the bottom of the stairs. Each time he/she tries to come upstairs; tell them ‘no’ and march them downstairs. Again, this may take a few hours to get any results, but it will come.
Overall, it is likely to take up to a week or two for this to be fully effective; but once you’ve mastered it, you can then move the dog bed into whichever room you would prefer your dog to stay at night.
- Is your dog with you every waking minute – training in the home
You need to set some boundaries. By your dog spending every single minute with you, they’re learning to associate that as when you’re in, they have you there all of the time. The best way to start this, without feeling ‘unfair’, is when you sit down to meals; make your dog stay in another room. This can then be used as a food training technique, to make them learn meal time for you, means chill out time for the dog. Similarly, if you need to go to the toilet, make sure the dog stays in the room when you leave.
If this is new to the dog, they are likely to howl/cry/whimper/whine for your attention – you must ignore it! They’re attention seeking, and therefore the minute you interact with them; whether it’s an ‘it’s alright, don’t worry’ or ‘ENOUGH/SHUSH/NO’ – They got the attention they were after and you’re therefore encouraging the behaviour.
First things first, when your dog settles down, so lies down to go to sleep, get up, leave the room, and come back in after say 20/30 seconds, (The likelihood is your dog will either be at the door whining, or at least be away from its original spot.) sit back down, and do not interact with the dog. Completely ignore him/her. Once your dog settles again, repeat the process. Continue to do this until your dog doesn’t appear phased by you leaving the room, and when you return is still lying in the spot. Not only will this allow your dog to feel able to be left alone, you’ll also be able to go to the toilet in peace!
- Is your dog with you every waking minute – training outside the home
The next step, is to leave your dog in the house for set periods of time. When your dog is settled (i.e. lying down/sleeping) leave the house as you would do normally (i.e. get the dog ready as you would for leaving them at home, put your coat on, get your keys and lock up etc.) and go outside. Make sure you’re out of sight/sound of your dog. Remain outside for 5 minutes. If your dog is a howler, the whole time you’re out they’re likely to be howling. After the five minutes is up, return to the house, do not interact with the dog, and go about doing whatever it is you would normally do within the house. When your dog has settled again, repeat the process. You should repeat this continuously until you feel the dog is accepting the small time you are out of the house. Once you feel that your dog is responding to this time period; increase it to 10 minutes. Repeat the process until you feel you can increase the time again. Gradually increase this, depending on how comfortable you are with it, until you’re able to leave your dog for up to an hour. If you reach this time, it is likely that the SA is improving.
- What is your routine when you leave your dog alone?
- Do you have a shower before leaving for work?
- Try showering earlier than usual so that the dog has time to settle between your shower and you leaving for work. Sit down with a cup of tea and put the telly on so your dog settles.
- Do you put your coat on before leaving?
- I know it sounds crazy, but start wearing your coat around the house! Your dog has associated you putting your coat on with you leaving the house; and therefore leaving them. Stick your coat on and wander the house doing your usual everyday things!
- Do you pick up your handbag, an umbrella etc?
- Same with the coat. Start carrying them around the house so that it desensitises your dog to it being a time when you leave.
- Do you pick up keys, that jingle due to the amount of keys you have?
- You seeing the theme yet?! Start carrying them around the house, throw them about, jingle them whenever you’re doing something. You could even use it as a positive, by picking up your keys and jingling them just before you feed your dog. Your dog will then associate keys with food and therefore replace what was a fear (you leaving) with something good (food)
- Do you always leave through the same door (i.e. front door?)
- Can you leave through an alternative route? Backdoor? Your dog has associated the front door with you leaving him/her. If you have a backdoor, they probably associate this with garden time, play time, you hanging the washing out etc. and therefore may not assume this as bad. From a personal point of view, this certainly worked for us!
- Do you have room/commitment for another dog?
- Although a lot of the techniques help, ultimately, if you only have one dog, that has SA, sometimes the best medicine is another dog; a play mate. Your dog has become solely reliant on human interaction, and cannot cope when he/she doesn’t have that. By getting a 2nd dog, you’re replacing the reliance on you, with a friend for your dog to interact with and feel that being left by his human counter parts isn’t so bad. A lot of people always think two will be hard, or that by getting a second you’ll lose the bond you and your dog have built. Ultimately; you won’t. Your dog has built up that bond with you over time, and an extra dog will not remove that. It will however give your dog time to enjoy another dogs company, and feel that your company isn’t the be all and end all; thus helping get rid of their Separation Anxiety.
- Do you have a shower before leaving for work?
- Other Remedies
Lavender Essential Oil – By far, one of the best things I’ve ever used. You can get it at any local chemists (or bigger chains like Boots/Superdrug). Lavender oil is extracted mostly from the flowers of the lavender plant, primarily through steam distillation; meaning that it is, in most cases, natural.
Lavender essential oil has a calming scent which makes it an excellent tonic for the nerves and anxiety issues. Therefore, in dogs that suffer from Separation Anxiety, it really plays a big part in providing a calmer environment for your dog. The refreshing aroma removes nervous exhaustion and restlessness.
Never place directly on your dogs fur/skin. Place in areas of the house they sleep (i.e. their bed). Applying to the collar also if necessary.
Rescue Remedy – Although not a winner for me, people have reported that Rescue Remedy (human grade) has worked wonders for their dog. It is placed, a few drops, into your dogs water. When your dog naturally drinks, they ingest the rescue remedy which is said to reduce high levels of situational anxiety. Hence the reason many people who suffer anxiety or palpitations tend to use this!
TV/Radio On – Sometimes all it takes is a bit of noise; bit of familiarity. Dogs tend to associate people by their voice; and with sensitive ears obviously noises keep them ticking. If possible, putting a radio station on that is generally all talking (rather than music) or turning a TV on that they can see/hear will also help. Again, this doesn’t work for all dogs, but is something worth toying with. In America, they have even created a special channel FOR dogs that are left alone during the day!
Your Clothes – As you’ll know, dogs noses have an amazing sense of smell. As such, they’ll know your smells, and typically in dogs that have Separation Anxiety, they can associate the smell of your clothes as comforting; usually as they only get to that smell when you’re home and interacting with them. Try leaving clothes, that you’ve worn, for your dog.
Calm Down! – Calm Down is actually a herbal mixture that can be placed into your dogs feed. It generally takes around 2-3 weeks before you see any effects; but does help to stimulate your dog. Again, it is herbal so is not like ‘drugging your dog’ as some people think. It can typically be picked up for approximately £14.00 a tub, and generally lasts around 2 months if applied to each meal.
Stimulation – How long is your dog left alone? 2 hours? 3 hours? 4 hours?
Imagine sitting in the same room for this period of time, with nothing to do, but have your own company? How would you feel? Bored? Stressed? This is one of the main causes of destruction. If your dog has ample things to stimulate them while you’re not there, they are less likely to worry about you being gone.
Try buying a variety of toys including Kong food toys (Fill the Kong with tasty treats, smothering the insides with the likes of peanut butter/honey that requires them to spend a while trying to lick the insides out).
Try puzzle toys. These mentally stimulate your dog to ‘task themself’ to reach their treats!
Once your dogs had a bit of a play, they’ll be exhausted and ready to sleep the rest of the day!
Diet – What are you feeding your dog? Is your dog on high protein but not getting the exercise? Are you feeding brands like Bakers?
You need to make sure the food you are feeding your dog is suitable. For instance, if you’re feeding a high protein diet, but your dog is getting a ten minute walk in the morning before you nip out, and then a ten minute walk when you get back, your dog is not burning the energy you’re putting in. Consider reducing the protein in your dog’s diet.
Similarly, the majority of high street brands, like Bakers, really aren’t any good. If, like you may do for your own food, you look at the ingredients, you’ll see the amount of additives that bring no benefit to your dog. Colourings, flavourings etc. Like kids, these things send our dogs loopy!
Have you ever considered raw feeding?
Raw feeding isn’t as hard as you think. If you want to do it ‘DIY’ style, it can be. You need to ensure measurements are correct (i.e. bone to meat ratio, ensure enough red meat in the diet to prevent Zinc Deficiency [ZRD] etc.).
There is however, plenty groups across Facebook that can talk you through this, one of the best being ‘Raw Feeding UK’.
If, like me, you don’t have time or patience for the DIY, there are various other sites/shops that will pre-package for you in the correct ratio. I, myself, use https://www.daf-petfood.co.uk (they do, however, have restricted delivery areas, so you may need to source somewhere local to you but it is definitely worth a try).
Having previously feeding my male on a mixture of kibble and wet food, I ended up paying less by buying raw! You can pay even less if you’re a savvy buyer and look for the bargains!
All of the above are tried and tested methods. Some work for some dogs, but don’t for others. It literally is a case of trial and error.
Either way, Separation Anxiety will not happen over night, and will need commitment, dedication and persistence.
At times, you will feel like you’re getting nowhere, and there’s no end in sight. Stick to it!
If any of the above don’t make sense, you need any more clarification, or you just want to talk a bit about your dog’s Separation Anxiety, please feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do all we can to help you get through it!