Dec 04 , 2019
What Is Separation Anxiety? How Is It Different From Isolation Distress?
Separation anxiety is a mental panic mode that dogs enter when their human leaves them at home alone. Often they will tear things up, urinate, defecate, whine, bark, or any combination of those things. Some dog professionals make the distinction between Separation Anxiety (anxiety over being separated from the bonded human) and Isolation Distress (distress when simply being left alone). SA is generally more severe, but they are both treated along similar lines.
The severity of your dog's reaction will be a large determinant in how long it takes to work through the problem. Remember to move at your dog's pace and be consistent.
Is your dog getting enough exercise? This is the number one thing you can do for your dog to fix just about any behavioral issue. It cannot be overstated! Most pet dogs are simply not getting enough exercise, and have a lot of pent up energy when their humans leave the house. This pent up energy will often come out while you are gone in the form of ripped up carpet and chewed up blinds. Ideally, they will get a good exercise session in before you leave for the day. We know how tough it can be to get up earlier than normal in the morning, but it's something we should do as responsible dog owners! The type of exercise matters quite a bit depending on your dog. An older, medium-energy dog may be content with a walk around the block, but a young Border Collie is going to need much more than that. Changing up the type of exercise you give your dog is also helpful! Just like us, dogs like to mix it up.
Leave The TV Or Radio On
This is a tremendous help to dogs prone to SA. Dogs have very good hearing. If the house is studio silent while you're away, they will hear every little noise going on outside. With music playing, it will drown out much of the outside noise, and they are more likely to sleep while you are gone. If you leave a TV on, make sure it won't have any noises that will agitate them, like dogs barking on Animal Planet!
The basis behind alone training is gradually desensitizing to things that happen before you leave the house that cause your dog anxiety. You give off signs that signal you're about to leave, like putting on your shoes, picking up your keys, turning lights off, etc. that your dog is keenly aware of. There are many articles about alone training online, so we won't reinvent the wheel here. Our recommendation is to go at your dog's pace and don't go too fast! It could make things worse on your pup. Rush them, and they'll make you wait!
Calmly Coming And Going
Another major component to easing SA in dogs is being relaxed when you leave the house and also when you return. The best thing for your dog is not make a big deal about your exit. It makes us feel good to shower our pups with attention and say goodbye over and over before we leave for the day. But to the dog, this is teasing. We get them worked up for nothing, and it makes their anxiety that much worse. It makes us feel good to say goodbye, but to them it's just not fair. Upon arriving home for the day, chances are your pup is super excited to see you! Resist the urge to feed into their excitement. Let them out to potty, but don't engage in any excitement until they have calmed down. Once they are more relaxed, then you can be silly and play with them. It's all about timing!
Some dog owners use dog appeasing pheromones (DAP diffusers) to calm their dogs while they are gone.
Other calming aids come in treat form, usually containing different oils and herbs. We suggest you consult your vet before utilizing these methods. They have been helpful for some, but shouldn't be relied on as a cure-all. It's a supplement for training, not a replacement.
Toys And Treats To Keep Busy
Many people will leave their dogs with a Kong filled with frozen peanut butter, kibble, or treats. There are many "slow treater" toys that can be used for this purpose. Be wary of bones, rawhides, and cheap toys that can be easily torn up. Whatever you give your dog, make sure it is safe for them to have while unsupervised. If your dog chews pieces off and ingests them, it can cause some serious problems that result in costly surgery! A safe bet is a large biscuit type treat that will keep them busy at least until you have left the house. Watching you leave is often the most anxiety inducing part for some dogs, so distracting them during that time can be beneficial.
For many dogs, it helps to make your schedule as predictable as you can. Coming and going at odd times, or coming and going multiple times during the day can upset some dogs. The degree to which you should comply with keeping a tight routine all depends on how your dog reacts to a change in routine, and with proper training, you can relax the rigidity of the schedule as your dog progresses.
Getting A Second Dog
This option is not for everyone, but often does help dogs with SA, provided you let your current dog pick your next one. If you fall in love with a dog that your current dog doesn't like, you may risk doubling your problems!
We can't comment on what meds are better than others for anxiety in dogs, because we are not vets! We do know that drugs can help some dogs, but think they should be used as a last resort, only after exhausting all other options. For the best advice, please consult your veterinarian on this matter!
Have you successfully worked through your dog's separation anxiety by using any of these tips? We'd love to hear your story! Share with us in the comments or on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube!