Separation anxiety in dogs

You find it hard to go out to dinner with your partner as your dog with howl the place down. A brunch out with family and friends on a Sunday morning is a distant dream as you are sure to go back to a ruined apartment. Stepping out the supermarket for groceries is a nightmare with neighbors calling to complain that your dog is barking his head off…

Sounds familiar?

For those of us who have dogs with separation anxiety, our lives end up revolving around our pets, making sure they are never left alone for even an instant, leaving us struggling with having a social life or even some time to ourselves. Separation anxiety is a condition where a dog gets extremely stressed and anxious when left alone for even short periods of time – often resulting in barking, howling, destruction, self-mutilation, refusal to eat, fever or diarrhea due to stress and other behavioral issues.

The most common causes for a dog with separation anxiety could be either of the below or a combination of some of these reasons:

  1. Being separated from the mother and littermates earlier than 60 days
  2. Never left alone – being surrounded by humans all the time
  3. Being constantly engaged, coddled and ‘talked to’ by humans
  4. Sudden changes in environment or place of stay

How does one fix separation anxiety in a pet?

While we often imagine that we are doing the best for our dog by being with it 24/7, and not teaching it to comfortably stay alone for short periods of time. It is imperative therefore that one begins with teaching a puppy to spend short periods of time alone, and helping it build trust in the owner, that the owner will eventually return.

Here are some ways to firstly avoid, and also fix separation anxiety:

Prevent the onset of separation anxiety

Teach your puppy to be alone for short periods of time, as little as 10-15 minutes at a time from when the pup is 2 months of age

Adequate exercise and walking

This provides not only an outlet for pent up energy, but also provides a great deal of mental stimulation. A tired dog will have little energy to be destructive and will also mostly fall asleep when you go away

Mental stimulation

Providing your dog a lot of mental stimulation through sniffing games and toys like Kong toys, interactive puzzles etc., as well as basic training can give the dog a lot of mental engagement. Providing chew toys, Kong toys etc. while you are away can also help the pet stay occupied when alone

Not making a big deal of entry and exit

Do not fuss over your dog before you leave or after you return, as this will make them even more anxious and excitable to see you.

Once separation anxiety has already set in, it will require a lot of conditioning in order to remove it. In order to do this, you will need to teach the dog to be alone for very short periods of time, and slowly build up its ability to stay for longer periods. In order to do so, one must keep in mind that your return to the pet before the pet begins displaying signs of anxiety, else it will only increase the separation anxiety rather than reduce it. A practical idea would be to use a webcam or CCTV to monitor the dog while away

These are the steps that can be followed over a period of several weeks or months if need be:

  1. Start with leaving the dog alone in a room for a minute or so at a time – multiple times a day. The dog can be given a toy or something else to distract it.
  2. Incrementally step up this time by a few minutes as and when you see the dog is not taking much notice of your absence. Return to the room before the dog begins to get anxious.
  3. As the dog gets more and more comfortable with being alone in a room, you can now begin to leave the house itself – again just a few minutes at a time, making sure to return before the dog begins to get agitated.
  4. These time periods of separation should be very slowly increased.
  5. This protocol should be followed through consistently in order to have any result

Leaving your dog in new places

When leaving your dog in a new place like a friends’ home, or a boarding centre, make sure you take your dog to visit the place and get acquainted with the people there multiple times in advance of leaving the dog there

Extreme separation anxiety

In cases of extreme anxiety, chance are the same would have been set off due to past abuse or even illness. In such cases it would be necessary to discuss the same with the vet and certain medications might be prescribed to help with the condition