Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Last Updated 22 April 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc (Hons)

A serious condition and more common than you would think, separation anxiety affects pet dogs of all breeds and sizes. One out of every six dogs may suffer from canine separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety may panic and suffer from stress when left alone.

How we interact with our pets largely affects the development of separation anxiety. Do you come home from work to find your pooch jumping and barking for joy? While it's a warmer greeting than the cat who runs in the other direction when you walk in the front door, it's not necessarily a sign of simple joy. An overexcited dog jumping all over you when you get home may be an indicator that they have been suffering from anxiety.


1. What Is Separation Anxiety?

2. What Causes Separation Anxiety?

3. How to Treat Separation Anxiety

4. The Best Anxiety Products for Dogs

What Is Separation Anxiety?

This type of anxiety occurs when your dog is separated from you for periods of time. Behaviours will be exhibited when left alone and often just before leaving. They may begin to show signs of stress when they see you performing leaving behaviours like putting on your shoes or picking up the keys.

Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Signs of separation anxiety prior to leaving may include:

• Following you closely
• Barking, whining, and vocalising
• Drooling or sweating
• Aggression may be observed in some cases.

Once you have left the house, other behaviours usually develop including:

• Howling and crying
• Not eating
• Urinating or defecating inside
• Destroying furniture or objects
• Trying to escape by chewing on or scratching doors and windows

It is important to note that some pets will exhibit these behaviours due to a lack of training. If your dog poops inside just as much when you're home as when you're gone, they may just need more potty training.


What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Separation anxiety is often seen in young dogs who have never fully adapted to being separated from their owners, and in dogs with other anxiety disorders such as noise phobias. It can also develop after a change in the household or schedule - such as the easing of COVID restrictions and work resuming as normal!

Separation anxiety is also particularly common among adult shelter or rescue dogs. Pets that have been in your home since a puppyhood are less likely to develop separation anxiety. However separation anxiety can have a number of causes including moving house, the loss of a family member or a traumatic experience while home alone.


How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs

The best way to treat separation anxiety depends on the dog. Severe cases may not be able to be left alone without injuring themselves and may require medication from your veterinarian. But for most cases, dealing with separation anxiety is all about training your dog to be desensitised to you leaving and returning to the home.

Training Tips to help with Separation Anxiety:

1. Avoid making a fuss when leaving or coming home. When you get excited with your dog when you first return, this reinforces you coming home as a significant event. Ignore them in the few minutes prior to your departure. Lots of attention before leaving can cause greater stress, especially if they can feel you are anxious or guilty about leaving them.

2. Don't let your dog develop negative associations to your morning rituals. If putting on your shoes or picking up keys is a trigger for your dog, try doing these actions without leaving the house. Teach them that these actions will not result in you leaving the house every time.

3. Give them alone time in small doses. Trial short periods of time away from your dog where you are in a different room to them in the house. Provide something fun or yummy such as a chewy treat or interactive toy to help distract them. You can gradually increase the amount of time spent away from your dog. When you return from your absence, try not to promote excitable behaviour; wait until they are calm before giving them attention.

4. Try using Adaptil to help keep your dog calm and content while you are away. For indoor dogs plug in an diffuser in their favourite room, for outdoor dogs an Adaptil collar is a good option.

5. Distract them with a toy or treat. Distracting your dog with an occupying toy or long-lasting treat when you leave can help keep them occupied and teach them to associate the process with positive feelings.


Best Products for Separation Anxiety

While proper training is essential, there are a number of non-medicated products that may help your dog during the training process. You might like to try a pheromone product such as Adaptil, an anxiety wrap, or a natural anxiety supplement or treat.

Top Anxiety Aids

The products below are regularly recommended by our Vet Squad for anxiety in dogs. Some dogs require prescription medication to help to manage their behaviour effectively, so for dogs with severe anxiety, we recommend speaking with your vet.

Vetalogica Tranquil Formula for Dogs

Tranquil Formula for Dogs works by delivering natural ingredients plus Tryptophan and B group vitamins to maintain an ideal emotional balance.

PAW Blackmores Complete Calm Chews

PAW Blackmore's Complete Calm Chews are formulated with tryptophan, and B vitamins to help dogs with general anxiety, including stress caused by thunderstorms or separation from owners.

ThunderShirt

The ThunderShirt helps to calm your dog by applying constant gentle pressure to the sides of the body. It is best suited for short periods of anxiety such as thunderstorms but may help with separation anxiety.

Adaptil

Adaptil is an odourless, man-made version of Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP). Female dogs release DAP soon after birth to establish feelings of well-being and attachment in their puppies.

Keep them Distracted with Clever Toys

Interactive toys are a great way to keep your dog busy and distracted if you're away from home! There are plenty of interactive toys which dispense treats or encourage your pet to work for their food. You can even make your own treat-dispensing toy by cutting small holes into an empty drink bottle and filling with kibble.

KONG Toy Wobbler

The KONG Wobbler dispenses treats or kibble as it wobbles, spins and rolls, keeping even the most experienced dogs challenged.

Petsafe Automatic Ball Launcher

This ball launcher has an open hopper, allowing your pooch to load balls without your assistance (after a little training).

KONG Extreme

The KONG can be stuffed with food, treat paste or peanut butter, and left to keep your dog occupied long enough for you to leave the house calmly.

Rogz Treat Dispenser

These bright, colourful spheres are made from food-grade, highly resistant ABS and feature three adjustable release rates for various levels of learning and feeding.


Top Long Lasting Treats

Long lasting treats are great to keep your dog occupied when you're leaving the house. Fresh raw bones can be a good option (but be aware of the risks of feeding raw bones) as are treats such as flavoured nylon bones and dental sticks. Long lasting treats should be used with caution while your dog is unsupervised as some pets can try to swallow these whole.


Tasty Bone

These durable nylon bones are designed to keep even the most persistent and powerful of chewers satisfied. They may be washed in soap and water if needed and the delicious range of flavours are designed to last for the lifetime of the bone.

Whimzees Veggie Ears

Whimzees Natural Chews are made from high-quality, vegetable-based ingredients making them an excellent option for dogs with food sensitivities.

Blackdog Bully Sticks

These bully sticks are made 100% Beef for a tasty treat, ideal for use as a training reward. Sometimes called bull's pizzles, these are 15cm in length and are one of the longest lasting chews in the Blackdog range.

Bell and Bone Dental Sticks

100% Natural and containing no artificial nasties, these dental sticks are made with a unique shape and are perfect for daily chewing to maintain your dogs dental health.

Separation anxiety is not to be confused with disobedience but rather your dog's uncertainty of whether they will ever see you again. Bored pets can wreak havoc similar to anxious ones, so interactive toys with hidden treats are a good way to keep them busy while you're away. Taking your dog for a walk or playing with them prior to leaving will also tire them out and make anxiety less likely.

Further Reading

Check out our other articles:

Crate Training Your Puppy

How to Calm an Anxious Pet

Raw Diets for Pets: The Risks and Benefits

Are Raw Bones Safe?

Dangerous Food For Dogs

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