Stay up-to-date on what's happening at the Regional Animal Protection Society

Separation anxiety in dogs

Separation anxiety is an extremely common experience for many dogs. It can manifest in incessant barking or fearful or destructive behaviours.

A dog experiencing separation anxiety may break their house-training habits, bark and howl, try to escape, or demonstrate unhealthy pacing or destruction of items in the house. The latter symptom is especially worrisome not only because of the damage they can do to doorframes, windowsills or furniture, but because of the injuries that can result in the dog, like broken teeth, cut paws or damaged nails.

Here are a few ideas to alleviate your doggo’s anxiety when you have to leave them alone. These may help in mild to moderate cases of anxiety. For more severe situations, please consult a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) can help you in this, particularly because attempting this desensitization process incorrectly can do more harm than good.

In the case of mild anxiety, some simple steps might work to alleviate the problem. “Counter-conditioning” is a process by which we can change a bad association into a good one. For example, if a dog is afraid of being left alone, leaving special treat like a Kong stuffed with cheese or meat to entertain them when they are alone can help make them associate being alone with that fun activity rather than wherever else their mind goes when you take off.

Also, try to exercise them before it’s time for you to go out. Take them for a walk and wear off some energy so that they will be more inclined to sleep than pine.

In more severe cases, standard procedure is to begin acclimating your pet with short separations that don’t produce long-term anxiety and then increasing very gradually the amount of time you spend apart.

You can alleviate your dog’s association with anxiety by exposing them to the routines that usually signal your departure and then not leaving. For example, you might put on your shoes and pick up your car keys and then just turn on the TV and sit down.

Also, don’t make a big deal when you come home. Especially if our pets are overwhelmingly excited to see us because their anxiety has ended, rewarding them with overt enthusiasm on your return may only exacerbate the contrast between their loneliness when you’re not there and their excitement when you are.

If these comparatively simple steps don’t work, professional help should be accessed. It’s possible that some dogs will never get over their separation anxiety. In that case, ameliorative steps like taking your dog to work, arranging for a dog-sitter when you can’t be there, engaging a doggy daycare for finding some other alternative will be necessary. You could also speak with your veterinarian about medications for behavioural problems like anxiety.