How do you stop separation anxiety in dogs?
Written by Louise Glazebrook
separation anxiety in dogs

Recently when I did a Q&A session for a national paper, they asked me to do ‘5 tips to cure separation anxiety’ and I refused. If it simply took 5 tips to ‘cure it’ and stop dogs becoming distressed when separated from their owners, their people, I’d be living on my own island in the sun somewhere!

We have to look at separation related distress in two ways – how to prevent it for those bringing home a puppy or dog new to their family. And then how to help our dogs that are struggling. Prevention is always better than cure.

How do we prevent separation anxiety in puppies?

There are many ways that we can look to make sure when you choose a puppy, you set yourself and your puppy up to succeed in being ok to have some independence:

A few tips to help you when choosing a puppy from a breeder-

  • Your puppy’s mother does not exhibit signs e.g. following their owner everywhere, not being able to be left
  • You don’t choose the most ‘needy’ puppy or the one that the breeder describes as ‘oh this one never leaves me alone’ as that will just transfer over to you when you take your dog home
  • You look at breeds and breed traits, right now, Cavapoo, Cockapoo and Miniature smooth coated Dachshunds I see the most with issues around separation distress.

How do we prevent separation anxiety in puppies when we bring them home?

The first part of that jigsaw is the selection of the dog you made. The second part to that jigsaw is making sure that you aren’t creating habits in your puppy that you don’t want later on and that can lead to dependence instead of independence. 

Do read the chapter in my book – The Book Your Dog Wishes You Would Read – about how to begin to prevent separation anxiety.

The key component is that you don’t keep following them around! Which is why puppy proofing becomes so incredibly important.

What are signs of separation anxiety in dogs?

Very often the media like to make it look like the only signs are destruction, barking and weeing and pooing in the house. That isn’t actually quite true. There can be lots of other ways that your dog can show you that they aren’t coping very well when you go out of the room. The most reliable way to know is to record your dog, there is a cheap app you can use called ‘My Pet Monitor’ that you can buy via the App store to be able to watch and listen to a live feed of your dog via your phone. Or you can do things like facetime yourself from your laptop to your phone when you are in another room or out of the house, just make sure the laptop in the room with your dog is on silent. You can also record them via systems like Nest which you set up via a camera in the room.

Symptoms your dog is struggling with being left may include:

  • Panting when you get home
  • Not settling anywhere
  • Not resting when you are out
  • Pacing
  • Crying and squeaking as if searching for you
  • Scratching at the door
  • Sat staring out of a window waiting for you
  • Frantic when you get home

Can you train a dog out of separation anxiety?

There are a huge amount of things that we can do to positively impact our dog’s life when we are working towards leaving them at home. I will be honest and say that I don’t know of and don’t use any ‘quick fixes’ and I don’t believe in the practice of simply shutting them in their crate or the room and slowly building up their time left. I have found this works for very, very few dogs and that the ones who it has,are in the minority.

If we are working together to try to help your puppy or dog, we will start by looking at what your dog CAN do already. What do I mean by that? For example we would look at whether your dog can:

  • Sleep alone whether that be in another room or just on the floor in your bedroom
  • Cope when you go for a bath or shower
  • Rest separately from you when you are in the same room e.g. on the floor when you are on the sofa
  • Take themselves off into the garden to toilet or do you have to be there?

These few questions really help me think and plan what our next steps would be and based on this is how we would then begin moving forward. To create a plan and step by step process for you and your dog.

The one thing I will be very honest about, is that separation related training can take ALOT of work for months. There is no skipping through things!

The other thing to bear in mind,  is that for some dogs due to their breeding, their predisposition to this issue through their genetics and breeding may mean that medication is required to assist this process. To do this would involve working with a Veterinary Behaviourist, if you live in the UK you can turn to someone such as the Royal Veterinary College for their recommendations. Your vet will need to refer you.

How long does separation anxiety last in dogs?

It doesn’t tend to magically just disappear, some dogs will learn to ‘cope’ in that they stop crying and barking but are still fearful and anxious when you have left them. Which is why I highly recommend you are recording your dog – as this footage should form the basis of knowing what they are doing in your absence. 

A dog just sat upright waiting for 4hrs for their owner to come home, may be silent and not defecating on the floor but it certainly doesn’t make for a relaxed, balanced, happy dog. So we do need to stop thinking about it purely from a human pov. As silence doesn’t mean that all is ok, dogs can internalise their reactions but still be experiencing the same anxiety and emotion.

Does leaving your dog with toys and chews help?

I don’t believe that they do in the way that many have been led to think they do, by the toy manufacturers. Certain toy people have created this idea that you just leave the toy stuffed with food and that will solve or get your dog to not have separation related issues. Actually what happens, is that the dog just eats the food then resumes going back to panicking. Or they don’t touch it at all. Or the toy becomes a trigger which indicates to the dog that you are about to leave them and this induces panic and fear of what is to come. 

Toys and chews need to be added in very carefully, for many dogs I would never actually use them at all. I certainly don’t see it as ‘an answer’.

All in all, teaching a puppy or dog to be happy and content when being left can be a long path, but with support, love and understanding of what your individual dog needs, a huge amount can be achieved. 

Please do get in touch if you want to discuss or figure out the right system for your dog.

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