Separation anxiety in dogs is a common behavioral issue that has a wide range of severity. Some dogs may cling to your side, not allowing you to leave the room without their help, while others suffer from a full-on freakout. Dogs with severe cases of separation anxiety may chew through drywall, scratch doors until their nails bleed, or crash through windows to escape. No matter the level of separation anxiety your dog experiences, a behavior modification strategy is key to calming her fears. Follow these steps to go from freaked out to fear-free.
- Speak with your veterinary team. With any pet-related concerns, schedule an appointment to rule out a health issue. Many other illnesses can mimic separation anxiety, and we can determine the correct cause of your pet’s issues. Separation anxiety can appear as a urinary tract infection, juvenile teething, simple boredom, or a reaction to outside noises. Once we’ve eliminated other potential causes and discussed the context of your pet’s signs, we can form a proper diagnosis and determine appropriate treatment. Some pets suffer from anxiety that is crippling enough to require medication. Many dogs do well with short-term or long-term medications. Often, a pet can be weaned off medication after undergoing behavioral modification.
- Try calming supplements. With more pet owners interested in natural remedies, a wide array of calming supplements is available. If your pet is on any medications, check with our team before adding a supplement. Some ingredients interact with medications, causing adverse effects. Common calming supplements include any combination of these ingredients:
- Magnolia officinalis
- Phellodendron amurense
- Whey protein
- Vitamin B1
Supplements vary in their efficacy. What works for your friend’s dog may not appear to affect your pet. Use a trial-and-error process to choose the best and most effective calming supplement for your pet.
- Use pheromone therapy. A clinically proven product shown to reduce anxiety, Adaptil is a calming canine pheromone. Similar to the pheromones emitted by a mother to her puppies, Adaptil sends “comforting messages” to your dog when used as a diffuser or collar. Results are seen within 7 days, but allow 30 days for the full effect.
- Bundle your dog in a calming wrap. A calming wrap, such as a ThunderShirt, works to alleviate anxiety by applying a steady, gentle pressure to your pet’s body. This pressure stimulates the release of positive hormones, similar to how a hug releases endorphins in people.
- Play soothing music. Many people leave the radio or TV on for their pets when they leave, but take it a step further. The classical music featured in iCalmPet’s tracks has been proven to relax pets. Studies have shown that music tempos can influence heart rate, brain waves, and breathing in pets, like they can in people.
- Teach independence. Begin independence training from an early age. Encourage your dog to stay in a room by herself while you leave, contentedly gnawing on a treat or toy. Ideally, your dog should be fine by herself if you leave to go to the bathroom, go outside alone, or head into a different room. Of course, some dogs will want to follow you out of curiosity rather than separation anxiety, but differentiate between the two.
- Minimize departure cues. Dogs with separation anxiety pick up on tasks you perform right before you leave. Putting on shoes, picking up keys, and grabbing your purse can trigger anxiety. Your dog learns that these signals mean you will leave soon. Break the link between these activities and your absence by interrupting the sequence of events. For example, put your shoes on, but then sit on the couch and watch TV. Grab your purse, only to tuck the strap over your shoulder and carry it around the house. Soon, your dog will realize these cues don’t hold any importance. When preparing to leave, simply distract your pet with a long-lasting treat and slip out the door without fanfare.
- Practice calm greetings and goodbyes. Exuberant kisses and a furiously wagging tail greeting you after a long day’s work are some of the best parts of dog ownership, but feeding that heightened emotion can worsen separation anxiety. Minimize the fuss over your departures and arrivals by ignoring your pet when leaving and coming home. Allow her time to settle before paying her attention. Over time, your dog will realize your comings and goings are not a big deal.
- Graduate to longer absences. As your dog slowly becomes comfortable with brief absences—even if you’re just in the other room—slowly increase the time. If your pet is suffering from a severe case of separation anxiety, you may only be able to leave the room for a few seconds before your dog becomes anxious. Practice long stays in a different room while she’s occupied with a stuffed Kong or treat. Make a point to return before your dog becomes anxious.
- Hire a dog sitter or enroll in doggy daycare. It can be a long process to overcome your dog’s separation anxiety. During your behavior modification protocol, consider hiring a dog sitter to help relieve your dog’s anxiety at being left alone. You can also enroll your pup in doggy daycare to ensure she is surrounded by friends.
Struggling to solve your dog’s separation anxiety? We’re here to help—give us a call.