It’s wonderful how our canines show us unconditional love, but what happens when that need for constant attention from and closeness to you goes too far?
With many people working from home during the pandemic, some of us may be guilty of having spent too much time with our loyal canines. Have you reached the point where, even if it’s just for a few minutes, they’re distressed if you leave them?
Although it may sometimes feel like you’re alone in your behavioural struggles, dog separation anxiety is a shared problem for many owners. There’s a range of reasons why a dog might become anxious, along with different ways to prevent and deal with it, so jump in with FirstVet Dr Jessica May to find out more.
Dog separation anxiety is a behaviour where your pup becomes distressed when they have to be apart from you. This can display itself in a number of ways, and often within just a few minutes of you leaving.
As we mentioned, it’s more common than you may think, and canines of all ages (including puppies and older dogs) can show separation-related behaviour. Some signs of separation anxiety are more clear, while others may not be as obvious.
So, what exactly causes dog separation anxiety? Well, it ultimately may come down to one or a combination of the following reasons:
Some dog breeds may be more likely to develop separation anxiety than others. These breeds are highly sociable canines with a strong pack mentality, meaning they could become highly attached to their owner. Of course, it often comes down to your dog’s individual personality, so each pooch is unique.
It’s possible to tell if your dog is stressed or anxious from numerous different signs. You may find that your dog displays some of these behaviours more during the night, but most often it’s when you’ve just left the house, which is why it may help to set up a pet camera to catch these indicators.
Preparation is often key to success and, in this case, preventing dog separation anxiety. Some of the things you can do to help avoid your pup getting anxious include:
You may be at the stage where your dog is already showing signs of separation anxiety. Reach out to your vet who can check for any medical causes as well as give recommendations for a specialist or behaviourist, if needed. While you wait for an appointment, there’s a few things you can do that may help to temporarily break your dog’s separation anxiety.
Keeping your dog occupied may help to stop them barking when home alone. Give them plenty of mentally-engaging toys and rotate these weekly so they don’t get fed up. More challenging puzzles may keep them occupied for longer, especially if they reward your dog with a treat.
Put them in a room towards the back of the house where they’re less likely to hear distracting outside noises. Leave the TV or radio on or even use a white noise machine so they’re not left in silence.
One way to help stop your dog from tearing things up when left alone is to give them dedicated items to destroy. Fill up a cardboard box with scrunched up newspaper and empty toilet rolls, then scatter treats underneath. Your dog can snuffle around for the treats and then chew the recycled items when they’re done scavenging.
You could also give them long-lasting natural chews like deer antlers, as long as this fits in with their diet and there’s no risk of choking. Put away any other items that you don’t want them to chew (like shoes). Build up a positive association with the things they’re allowed to gnaw on, such as their toys.
Taking them out for a good walk before you leave may also help draw out any excess energy that could lead to destructive chewing.
As your dog gets older, they may develop anxiety they never used to have as a younger pup. A combination of things may lead to them becoming anxious, such as:
You’ll normally be able to tell that it’s separation anxiety specifically if the behaviours we mentioned earlier appear when you leave the house. They may also manifest during the night, as your older dog sees going to bed as another distressing time where they have to be apart from you.
Older dogs are more prone to developing chronic conditions, which is why it’s important to consult a vet in case these signs of anxiety are a result of an illness or disease.
Puppies can develop separation anxiety just as much as older dogs. Training a dog to be left alone is often easier to do when they’re younger and haven’t already settled into behaviours and habits. Introduce as many of the steps for preventing separation anxiety as soon as possible after welcoming your new pup into the family.
Separation anxiety is not simply an age problem, which is why your puppy won’t just grow out of their anxiety and it doesn’t disappear by itself over time. When you start to see signs of separation anxiety in your puppy, take action by booking an appointment with your vet.
Getting professional help is often the safest course of action when it comes to dog separation anxiety. When your canine companion is acting out of sorts or their behaviour is worrying you, reach out to a vet.
FirstVet offers 24/7 video appointments with a UK-based vet, so you always have help available should your dog show signs of stress or anxiety. FirstVet can give you immediate advice, as well as recommend an in-person appointment, should your dog need to be examined for a potential medical issue.
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