Have you found that your pups get huffy when it’s time for you to leave them? Are they apt to be naughty when you’re away? This may be a sign that they are experiencing separation anxiety. Though you know your pups will be fine when you leave, they may not be getting the “memo.”

Separation anxiety in dogs is common.  According to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine, 20 to 40 percent of dogs that visit veterinary behavioral specialists display separation anxiety symptoms. And pet owners also appear to  be highly aware of this issue. There are over 11,000 online searches each month for “separation anxiety in dogs,” showing just how many owners are looking to learn more and find solutions. 

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Causes of Separation Anxiety 

Separation anxiety in dogs stems from a panic response, which can arise due to various factors. Generally, dogs will display separation anxiety in relation to the departure of the person or persons to whom they are most attached.

Here are the most common causes of separation anxiety in dogs:

  • Being left alone when accustomed to human contact
  • Prior emotional or physical trauma (common in rescued dogs that have spent time in shelters)
  • Change in family dynamics, including the loss of a family member or pet
  • Change in routines and schedules, including an owner, no longer spending as much time at home
  • Change in residence
  • Change in guardian

My Pup Seems Really Anxious…Is That Normal? 

Just as people experience some level of anxiety as a normal part of living, so do dogs. If you’ve had a recent change at home that affects your dog’s schedule or lifestyle, this may cause some minor anxiety. For instance, it’s perfectly normal for a dog to experience anxiety if your residence changes. Anxious behaviors range from minor to severe. 

The following behaviors are signs of separation anxiety in dogs and occur when the owner is away:

  • Destructive chewing
  • Urinating and pooping for house-trained dogs
  • Persistent barking, whining, and/or howling
  • Scratching at windows and doors
  • Pacing
  • Escaping or attempting to do so
  • Participating in coprophagia, which involves pooping and then consuming the excrement

Anxiety induced behaviors are cause for concern if they tend to be extreme and continue for an extended period. For instance, if your dog is still urinating and chewing up items a couple of months after a change in residence, it might be time to enlist the assistance of your vet or a professional dog trainer.

How to Help a Dog with Separation Anxiety

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help a dog with separation anxiety. When you know how to calm an anxious dog, you’re better able to help your furry friend feel more peaceful and content.

One key to helping any dog with separation anxiety is to take a preventative approach by starting these practices early and maintaining consistency, especially with new puppies and newly adopted, older dogs. 

Treating minor to moderate anxiety

  1. Make arrivals and departures uneventful. Try to normalize your coming and going. Pack up your things ahead of time. When you come home, wait until your pets calm down to pet them.
  2. Give your pup interactive toys containing yummy treats when you leave. This will divert your pup’s attention and give them something to look forward to each time you leave. That is likely to make the departure easier. Remove the toys when you come home so they’re only available when you’re gone.
  3. Teach your pup a word or phrase that signifies you’ll return. This can have a calming and reassuring effect.

Treating severe anxiety

  1. Provide your pet with a worn piece of your clothing. Your scent will make your pet feel like you’re near, and this can be calming.
  2. Ask your veterinarian about using medication to reduce anxiety when you’re away. The right medication can calm your dog, making your departure feel less stressful.
  3. Consider crating. Some dogs do best confined in a crate where they feel safe when you’re away. You can also put up a baby gate and confine them to a safe room. This doesn’t help with all dogs, however, as crating can sometimes increase anxiety. See how your dog reacts to confinement.

Things to Avoid: What Can Make Separation Anxiety Worse

Your dog isn’t experiencing separation anxiety to alarm or annoy you. Try to avoid the following in response to separation anxiety in dogs:

  • Punishment. Punishing your dog will add to their stress level and result in worse anxiety.
  • Impatience. Your dog isn’t behaving anxiously on purpose. The more patient, compassionate, and consistent you are with your pup, the better.
  • Failing to seek help. If the anxiety has become severe and unmanageable, reach out to your veterinarian or trainer for assistance.

When It’s Time to Seek Professional Help 

If the tips in this article on how to calm an anxious dog don’t help you ease your pet’s anxiety, it may be that his stress is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Some symptoms of anxiety, such as defecating and urinating, can be signs of illness. In that case, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian, so that any medical conditions can be promptly addressed.

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