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Separation anxiety in dogs

Posted on by Kate Herbert

Separation anxiety in dogs is very real and can cause them great distress. It’s pretty stressful for their owners as well; nobody wants to think about their pet being unhappy while home alone.
Right now in Australia, it’s a matter of the good news and the bad news. The great thing is that many of us are able to head back to the office after months of working from home. But the problem is our pets have become accustomed to us staying in! This is creating issues for some families. 
Of course, separation anxiety in dogs is nothing new and is not unique to COVID times.Here’s some info about why it happens and what to do about it.

Why do dogs have separation anxiety?

Dogs are naturally social animals. Their ancient ancestors evolved to live in packs and even after thousands of years of selective breeding our pets retain their social instincts. 

When you bring your dog home, you and your family become their pack. They feel better when you are around and they rely on you to survive. When you’re not home, dogs can start to feel insecure (not to mention bored). This leads to stress and destructive behaviour. It can be worse in puppies who aren’t used to being alone and have lots of energy to burn.
 

How to know if your dog has separation anxiety?

There are a few indicators of separation anxiety in dogs. 
Anxious dogs will:
  • Urinate or poop in the wrong places
  • Chew up your furniture and belongings
  • Scratch at doors
  • Pace around
  • Howl, bark or cry
  • Tremble
  • Refuse food

    If they are kept outside, your dog may dig up the garden. Some dogs even escape in an attempt to find you. This is obviously not ideal, especially if you live near a busy road. 

    Your pet may also get into the habit of scratching or licking itself when feeling unsettled because you are not home. 


    How to help your pooch

    Once you have established that your dog has separation anxiety, there are a number of things you can do to help them (and possibly your neighbours and your furniture). 
     
    Play with them and take regular walks: Whenever you are around, make sure you give your dog all the attention he or she needs. Make time every day for play and exercise so your dog can rest calmly when you are not at home.
     
    Training:
    Training can be a lengthy process but it is essential in caring for a happy and healthy dog who suffers less confusion and anxiety.

    For example, when you leave, your dog may not realise you will come back (this is what leads to anxiety). To minimise the stress they feel, allocate some time to training. Grab your jacket and keys, say goodbye to your dog (don’t make a fuss) and head out the door but come back after only a few seconds and greet your pet after he/she has calmed down. Again, don’t make a fuss on your return.

    Spend an afternoon repeating this but extending the time you spend on the other side of the door. This will help teach your dog that you always come back. 

    Give your dog a stuffed toy or hand over a special treat as you leave. This will give a more tangible signal that you are going out but will return, and will also create positive feelings around your departure.


    Entertainment: Boredom can be a big part of separation anxiety in dogs. If pooch has plenty to stay busy with while you are gone, there is less time to long for your presence. 
    Some products that can help with separation anxiety in dogs are:
     
     
    Plush Toys: Just like kids, dogs can find companionship and comfort in stuffed toys. Big squishy toys are best as they can be snuggled with. 
    New innovations in dog toys even allow you to add your scent. One example is Dog Fill Me. This doggy plush can be filled with your old
    t-shirts or socks. This is a great way for your dog to find comfort while you are away.
     
     
    Puzzles and activities: Balls with treats inside and other sorts of puzzle toys can be great to keep Fido occupied. We recommend Kong, which has a durable selection of toys that were designed with active dogs in mind. 
     
     
    Chew toys: Any doggy parent whose furniture or shoes have been shredded will know the importance of chew toys. Make sure the toys you choose are sturdy and safe for dogs... and replace them often.
     
     
    Something new: Like children, some dogs tire of playing with the same things over and over. Keep your puppy pal entertained with a subscription box. This maintains the novelty factor and means you don’t have to go out of your way to find new dog toys. For check out wagglyclub.com.au for a convenient and activity-packed monthly package that your dog will love.

    You can also view our range of toys hand-picked to help with separation anxiety here.

    Is your dog still struggling with separation anxiety?

    For some dogs, separation anxiety is overwhelming and you may need to seek professional help.
    In general, dog owners who have this problem start with a visit to their local vet. In some circumstances, specialist training may help to minimise your dog’s negative response to being left alone. You won’t necessarily get results overnight but will hopefully see a change in your dog over time. 

    There is medication available to treat dog anxiety but you will find many vets try to reserve this as a last resort. Talk this through with a professional to see if it is an option for you. 

    The other thing to consider is some form of dog sitting. Perhaps a local dog walker can visit your dog in the middle of the day so they don’t spend as much time alone. You could look for a neighbour who still works from home and is happy to have company or book your dog into a local daycare where they will be stimulated and amongst ‘friends’ all day.