The term separation anxiety is a way overused phrase. Actual separation anxiety is a severe situation and is not as common as many people may think. This is when a dog has extreme anxiety when they are away from a certain person or people. What many dogs suffer from is separation stress which is a much milder condition. The good news is that this can be dealt with and your dog can learn to cope with this relatively easy as compared to separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is something that is best healed with the help of an experienced dog behaviorist. You will not find a quick fix or simple solution on the internet and needs to be dealt with by a professional.
The other distinction that needs to be made is between a separation-related issue and an isolation issue. A dog with a separation issue is caused by them being away from a particular person or people. Simply leaving them with another carer or person will not stop them stressing and threating. A dog with an isolation issue means that being with another person other than their owner will help relieve the stress or anxiety.
If a dog is chewing up stuff, toileting inside, looks sad or down when you leave or goes crazy with excitement when you return it is often assumed they have separation anxiety. In general this is not necessarily the case. It may be a behavior and training or boredom issue or it may fall into the other categories of Separation stress, Isolation anxiety or Isolation stress.
- Separation problems stem from a dogs attachment to one person or group of people. In this situation no other person or animal can alleviate stress or anxiety.
- Isolation problems are about not wanting to be alone. Dogs are an extremely social animal and seek out company. In this situation another person or even animal can help alleviate the problem. Arranging a friend or neighbor to visit can help alleviate the issue. Alternatively, a pet minder or dog walker can be used. A further option is to use a pet camera for dogs. These devices not only allow you to see what your dog is up to but also allow interaction with your dog. This can range from simply talking to your dog to giving them a treat or game with the built-in laser pointer. To learn more see Best pet cameras for dogs.
Then there is the difference between stress and anxiety. This tends to be on a scale with mild stress being at the low end with extreme anxiety being at the high end. High-end anxiety is extremely serious and it will need to be dealt with by a professional. This is where a dog may really hurt themselves trying to escape or working themselves into a state of extreme panic and fear.
If you have a dog that has an issue when being left alone you need to figure out which of these categories your dog fits in to, a Separation or Isolation related issue. You then need to objectively analyze where they fit on the scale of low-level stress up to extreme level anxiety. Even though each dog is different it will give you a starting point to finding a solution and beginning to help your dog cope and adjust. Separation problems are in general more difficult to fix than isolation problems.
This video is a must watch if you have a dog that has any of these issues.
Dog separation anxiety symptoms
Here are some of the signs and symptoms to be aware in relation to separation or isolation problems. It is important to understand that simply because your dog has some of these behaviors does not automatically mean that you are dealing with a separation or isolation problem. In many cases it may be that your dog is bored and frustrated or there is a behavior issue that needs addressing.
Toileting, either urinating or poohing when they are home alone.
If your dog does this when you are home it is probably not separation or isolation anxiety. It may be that potty training needs more work, or it can be submissive or excitement urination. It can even be marking behavior. Generally, a potty trained dog won’t mark inside the house.
Barking and howling
If this behavior is persistent and not be triggered by something such as a noise outside it is probably the result of them being left home alone.
Chewing and destructive behavior
Sometimes a dog chews on door frames or window sills, digs at the door and carpet, or destroys household objects when left alone If they are doing these behaviors when you are there it is not a separation or isolation issue. Chewing itself is a beneficial activity for dogs. You just want to direct towards appropriate items such as chew toys rather than your chattels. When a dog chews it releases endorphins to the brain giving them a feel-good feeling and relieves stress. See benefits of chewing for dogs for more on this.
Often a dog that has an issue with being left home alone will try to escape. If they are making escape attempts when you are home it is more likely a bored dog looking for adventure. This is why it is important to provide adequate exercise, both physical and mentally enriching for your dog.
Pacing and whining
These are common signs of stress in a dog. If these are caused by separation or isolation they probably won’t do them when you are there.
Not eating or drinking when home alone
If your dog doesn’t eat or drink until you return. As soon as you come back home, they start to gobble everything, which frequently results in vomiting.
Salivation and increase rate of breathing
The fact that the dog drools extensively can also be the animal’s reaction to great fear and anxiety. Accelerated breathing is also a sign of anxiety and fear.
Velcro dog symptom
This is where your dog sticks to you like velcro in the fear that you might leave them. They will follow you around watching everything you do.
Signs of anxiety when the owner is about to leave
As soon as the dog spots the first signs of the owner leaving, it starts to show signs of anxiety such as shaking, salivating, and breathing faster Some dogs can even become aggressive when the owner is leaving and do not let them leave.
Ways to help a home alone dog with anxiety and stress
Don’t make a big deal when leaving or returning
Try not to make a big fuss of your dog when leaving. Don’t make your exit with lots of fanfare or over the top affection. When you return don’t greet your dog or give them attention immediately. Come in and just act normal as if you never left. Creating high arousal in your dog when leaving or returning will make it harder for them to adjust to being alone.
Leave something with your scent on it
Leave a T-shirt or other item that has your scent. Your scent will help comfort your dog and will help keep them calm until you return. A dogs’ primary sense is smell, and reassuring and familiar smells can offer safety cues.
Take them for a walk before leaving
If your schedule allows take your dog for a walk to help settle them and to release some pent-up energy. Alternatively, play a game of fetch or similar activity. Once the game is complete just carry on with your normal activity such as getting ready to leave to allow them to settle before you leave.
Provide your dog with activities to do while you are gone
Ensure you leave your dog with toys and ways to occupy and provide a mental challenge while you are gone. For ideas on how to occupy a dog when home alone see here.
Use dog anxiety meditative music
There is plenty of music designed specifically to relax and calm a dog. You can either purchase dog relaxation music on Amazon or there is plenty of free dog anxiety music on Utube.
A thunder shirt is a garment that your dog wears that applies gentle and constant pressure to their body. This has a calming and stress relieving effect on dogs. They work well with dogs that are stressed or anxious about being alone as well as dogs that have fears with thunder, fireworks, and traveling.
To learn more you can see Thunder shirts on Amazon here
This is a diffuser you plug into a power point that releases dog appeasing pheromones that give then a calm feeling. To us, these scents are odorless and are only perceived by dogs and provide a strong signal of security and comfort. The diffuser will cover an area of up to 700 sq. ft. Comes with a diffuser head and a vile that lasts up to 30 days. Replacement viles are also available on Amazon
This is a well known homeopathic remedy that has been around for 80 years. It is quite commonly used by humans to feel relaxed, calm and stress-free. As a dog groomer, I have used Rescue remedy with great success when working with highly anxious dogs. Easy to use as you just put a drop or two on the tongue.
For the Complete Guide to Leaving a Dog Home Alone see here