Will Dog Training Help Separation Anxiety?
Does your dog struggle with being left home alone? Is he destructive and possibly hurting himself? Your dog probably has separation anxiety. It’s a fairly common behavioral issue in all sorts of breeds. But will dog training help separation anxiety?
We’re pleased to say that there are indeed some things you can do to help your dog resolve their fear of being alone. And you might be surprised to know all of the solutions revolve around dog training. So, let’s discuss what real actions you can take to help your dog recover from their separation anxiety.
What is Dog Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety occurs when your dog becomes very attached to you and to the point that they become extremely stressed when you leave them. A dog with serious separation issues exhibits symptoms beyond whining. Indeed, it becomes much more serious than just that. Dogs act this way for one or more reasons. Usually, it has to do with being left alone for the first time, when a dog has changed ownership more than once, changes in routine, moving from a shelter into a home or triggered by the loss of a family member.
If the problem isn’t too severe, the treatment is minor but may take a while to stop the habit. Very severe separation anxiety in dogs will involve more long-term intervention. Not sure if your dog is experiencing separation anxiety? Let’s explore some of the common symptoms.
What are Common Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
If your dog is left alone for a period of time while experiencing separation anxiety, they might have one or more of these symptoms:
Howling, Barking & Whining
Yes, some dogs are just very vocal. But a dog with bad separation anxiety might howl, bark or whine for hours on end. If you live in an apartment, this could affect more than just you and your dog. Your dog may become hoarse from the excessive barking, howling or whining.
Having Accidents Even Though Housebroken
If you’re coming home to accidents even if you know your dog can hold it for longer than the time you were away, this might be a symptom of their anxiety. Dogs become excitable and have to eliminate. This means more mess in your home and your dog knows you won’t be happy when you get home. This might cause him even more stress.
One solution for this would be to install a dog door, so that your canine could relieve himself outdoors when he needs to. Having a pet door may reduce some problem behaviors by helping your dog release some of his stress and anxiety.
Coming home to an utter mess? Dogs with anxiety may become destructive. We’re talking overturned trashed, stuffing pulled out of couch cushions, holes in the wall and scratch marks on the door. There’s no limit to what a panicked dog is capable of.
Drooling and Panting
This is a very common symptom of a stressed dog. Excessive panting and drooling, even though the temperature is controlled may occur. You might find puddles of drool, drips on the floor and more. Make sure your dog gets well-hydrated after this kind of episode.
When their nerves get the better of them, some dogs might pace the room or the entire house. If you have a camera, you might catch a glimpse of this bizarre behavior.
At their worst, a dog with severe anxiety triggers a flight response. That means they will do anything to escape their crate, the room or even the whole house. Dogs have been known to burst through doors, chew through walls and worse (if you can believe it). This puts your dog at risk. It also risks the lives of other people and animals if they jumped in front of a car or came upon another pet walking down the sidewalk. Stressed dogs are unpredictable.
Why Does My Dog Have Separation Anxiety?
The reasons that dogs develop separation anxiety are not entirely known. There are some ideas as to why some dogs develop separation anxiety and others don’t. It seems that dogs from shelters are more likely to show symptoms of separation anxiety. This has led to the idea that a change in guardianship or friendship can cause a dog to develop anxiety.
It is also suspected that changes in schedule, residence or family members can be a contributing factor to a dog developing separation anxiety.
Possible Medical Issues
If you suspect your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, it’s possible that your dog actually has an undiagnosed medical issue. If your dog is drooling, panting or having incontinence issues, there may be something there that you are not seeing. A visit to your vet can help rule out any medical issues your dog may be having.
Before seeing your vet, be sure to start a log to record the symptoms you are seeing and their intensity. Share this information with your vet to help rule out any medical problems.
What to Do When Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
Here are some strategies that are commonly suggested to help dogs with separation anxiety. Your dog might respond from just one of these, or you can use a combination of strategies to effectively assist your dog in dealing with their separation anxiety.
Offer Lots of Stimulation
One way of dealing with separation anxiety in dogs is to keep them busy. Before you leave the house, give them a good walk. If your dog has a lot of energy to burn, consider using a weighted doggie backpack. This can give that little extra nudge an active dog might need. The idea here is to make them tired so they can rest while you’re gone.
You should also leave your dog with something to occupy their minds while you’re gone. Give them a Kong stuffed with treats to help occupy their mind. Or even strategically hide treats around the room when you leave.
Many people believe that you can train your dog to get over separation anxiety. It’s not that you can “train the anxiety away,” but you can teach your dog what is expected of them. This applies to when you are leaving, but it also applies to their everyday lives.
You should be working with your dog each day to teach them what you want from them. If your dog comes over to you and puts their head in your lap, you might be inclined to pet them. But if you continue this behavior the dog will think they can command you.
Work with your dog to go outside when you want. Teach them that they should wait to be greeted by guests before approaching them. Teaching your dog what the rules of the house are will help them gain confidence in themselves.
Once your dog gains confidence, you can start training them how to act when you leave. You can practice leaving for short periods of time. By short, we mean seconds. If you are able to be out of sight for five seconds without your dog having an episode, you can train them to last ten seconds. Ten seconds become minutes and so on.
Crate training a dog with separation anxiety can get a bit touchy. This is because each dog is unique. Some dogs see the crate as their safe space and they know that everything will be fine. Though some dogs do not do well in a crate. This can actually make their anxiety worse.
Worse, the dog can injure themselves while trying to escape the crate. Obviously, this is best avoided. So, when it comes to crate training for trying to reduce your dog’s separation anxiety, you’ll just have to go by how your dog reacts.
Gradually Get Them Used to You Leaving with Departure Cues
One of the biggest triggers for a dog that suffers from separation anxiety is you leaving. If your dog starts to act strange once you put your shoes on, you’ll have to break them of that. A great way to achieve this is by putting departure cues in place.
Your dog might become triggered when you pick up your keys. Your dog associates your keys with you leaving. If this is the case, you’ve got to help them forget that association. Try picking up your keys, then sitting on the couch to watch TV. Next time maybe pick up your coat but head over to the kitchen table.
Your dog has to learn that these cues do not mean you will be leaving. This way they can stop becoming anxious when they see these cues. Just remember that your dog has gotten used to your routine. Breaking them of this habit is going to be challenging and you need to practice with them multiple times a day. Slowly, you can help your dog reduce their anxiety.
If you’ve tried the above methods and they have not been successful at helping your dog’s separation anxiety, it might be time to look at getting medical treatments. These aren’t usually the first option for many people, but they can really help a dog dealing with separation anxiety.
Medications require a prescription from your vet.
Some common medications your vet may recommend include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
Even if your vet recommends a prescription medication for your pooch, it should be used in conjunction with behavioral modifications as well. There is no one pill fix-all, but medications can be a useful step in treating a dog with separation anxiety.
Once medication and behavior modification therapy has been implemented, you can hopefully wean your dog off of the prescription medications. Always follow your vet’s advice giving your dog’s medication.
Will Dog Training Help Separation Anxiety? A Summary
So many of the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs can be mitigated with proper training. This includes obedience training. It’s crucial. Why? It helps set expectations between you and your dog. Your dog looks to you as their guide. Training shouldn’t be a weekly activity you do, but a daily, ongoing and consistent part of your relationship with your dog. Just a few minutes here and there makes a significant difference in their behavior.
Train your dog to sit and wait for you when you leave the home. Train how to welcome people into the home. And show them where and when to go to the bathroom. You can do all of these in baby steps. For the dog with separation anxiety you need to start your training from the bottom up. Once you’ve done this, you’re free to change your routine and make sure your dog doesn’t anticipate your routine too much. This can lead to problem behaviors and anticipation of certain actions. Your dog needs to be flexible and trust you no matter what changes to your routine you make.
So, will dog training help separation anxiety? Undoubtedly yes.