Have you ever come home to find your pillows reduced to white fluff all over the floor? Your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in dogs is more common a problem than many people think. According to the University of Illinois, 20 to 40% of dogs suffer from this. It can have detrimental effects on your dog, such as aggression, lack of house-training and other anti-social behaviour.
You may wonder – how will I know if my dog is suffering from separation anxiety if I’m not around to see it? There are some telltale signs that you can look out for when you come home:
- Destruction of furniture, door frames, etc
- Indoor “accidents”
- Howling or barking heard by neighbours
- Self-trauma (excessive licking of paws, back-end)
It is natural for young animals to experience some sort of anxiety when separated with their parents and you can help reduce this by getting your puppy used to being alone for increasing amounts of time. There are multiple ways you could do this:
Getting your dog used to you being away can be difficult, but breaking it up into small amounts of time can make this task easier.
First, leave your dog alone for 5 minutes, even just by waiting outside your door quietly.
- Then, when you come back, reward them with a treat.
- Repeat this several times and then increase the time to 10 minutes.
- Once again, repeat this several times.
- Do this a few times a day and keep increasing the time you leave your dog alone.
- Don't forget to keep rewarding your dog with treats every time you come back
- This process requires patience and will take a few weeks, but it is extremely effective.
The Blue Cross suggests doing this with a stair gate when you are going upstairs as “practice” for when you actually leave the house.
Keeping your dog in a crate when you leave limits the space they have to pace in and the things they can destroy. A crate gives them a quite, safe place they can stay in while you are gone. Partially covering your crate with a towel or blanket can provide them with even more comfort. Some dogs, however, do not take well to the crate and it actually increases their anxiety. Monitor your dog in the crate first before leaving them alone to see if this method will work for you.
This method is important for large dogs that have a lot of energy. Your dog is less likely to be anxious and pacing when you leave if it has been exercised, as it will be more tired and content. Providing toys for your dog to play with when you leave is important. This method alone may not be enough, and can be combined with the two above methods.
Believe it or not, playing music can also help calm your dog. The Journal of Veterinary Behaviour published a study that showed that kennel dogs spent more time sleeping if they were listening to classical music. So next time you leave your dog alone, maybe put on some Chopin!
It is important to remember to not pay too much attention to your dog’s whining and barking, no matter how hard that may be! Rewarding their bad behaviour with attention will condition them to think it effective, and so it is important to “play it cool”, as the American Kennel Club says.
Medical treatment is always a last option if nothing else has worked. Vets can prescribe medication that can treat depression, anxiety or panic disorders. Natural supplements can also be given, such as chamomile, however these have not been officially proven to reduce a dog’s anxiety.
Felcana can monitor your pet’s activity – an increase in activity and pacing when you are gone may indicate that your pet has separation anxiety. Tracking these patterns on your phone will help you identify this and bring it up to the vets so they can provide you with solutions.
This blog was written by Melody Winterhalter from the Royal Veterinary College.