Separation anxiety occurs when a dog does not tolerate being left alone. The dog panics and feels stressed, often resulting in either self injury, or destructive and harmful behaviour in the household.
How common is it?
It is believed that one in six dogs will suffer from separation anxiety. It can affect dogs of any age, size and breed.
What causes separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can be caused by a number of factors. It can affect young dogs who have never learnt to tolerate being left alone. It can also develop in older dogs after a change in circumstance or schedule, such as moving house or a traumatic event.
We have seen many dogs affected by the change in family schedules following the return to work after the easing of Covid restrictions.
What are the signs of separation anxiety?
The signs of separation anxiety can vary from mild to extreme. For example, an overexcited dog greeting you after coming home for the day may not just be a happy welcome. The jumping and barking may be an indicator that they have been stressed and suffering from anxiety when left alone.
Other signs might be more obvious, such as urinating and defecating in the house when left alone, or escape attempts around doors and windows. If these behaviours are only exhibited when left alone, there is a good chance they are anxiety related.
Some dogs will pick up on simple cues that their owner is about to leave, such as grabbing the car keys or putting on shoes, which triggers the dog to feel stressed about being left.
They may then:
- Follow you closely
- Start vocalising by barking or whining
- Salivate heavily
- Possibly show aggression
Some dogs however, do not show signs of separation anxiety until the owner has actually left the house. Owners may not even realise there’s a problem until neighbours complain about barking or the owner finds parts of their homes damaged.
These behaviours may include:
- Excessive barking, howling or crying. This kind of vocalising is persistent and only seems to occur when left alone.
- Refusing to eat. Dogs can become so worked up that even their favourite treat is unappealing, and they will only decide to eat again once the owner returns and the dog feels secure.
- Urinating or defecating inside. Whilst urinating and defecating inside could be caused by a number of factors, if it only happens when the dog is left alone there is a good chance that it is anxiety related.
- Destroying furniture or the owners possessions. This can be an outlet for dogs experiencing the stress of being left alone, and if anxiety related, will only occur when the owner is not present.
- Trying to escape by chewing on or scratching doors and windows. Whilst the house might be damaged, this type of behaviour can also result in self-injury, such as broken teeth, cut and scraped paws and damaged nails.
- Pacing. Some dogs continually pace along a specific path when left alone, only ceasing once the owner has returned.
What can you do to help?
Depending on the severity of the separation anxiety, there are a number of management options available. The goal is to desensitise the dog to their fear – being left alone – by teaching them a way to enjoy or at least tolerate the solitude. Click on each links below for more information on how to help manage separation anxiety.
- Training tips
- Boredom busters
- Natural supplements
- Behavioural experts
- Medication. Some cases of separation anxiety are so severe that it becomes dangerous to leave the dog alone as they may seriously injure themselves. In this instance, medication may be useful in conjunction with training. Make an appointment to work out if this option is right for your dog.
What NOT to do
Do not scold or punish your dog. Separation anxiety and its related behaviours are a result of stress, which will only be made worse by punishment. The dog is simply trying to cope with the overwhelming feelings of anxiety about being left alone, and punishing your dog will escalate the problem.