Canine Separation Anxiety
Canine Separation Anxiety
Separation Anxiety Overview
- Dogs with separation anxiety panic and exhibit behavior problems when they can’t be with their owners
- Common symptoms include excessive barking, attempts to escape, destructiveness, potty accidents and excessive greetings
- Separation anxiety can be caused by changes in a dog’s home life, a traumatic event and even a genetic predisposition
- Symptoms of separation anxiety can mimic other issues, such as a medical condition, other anxieties or common puppy behaviors
- You can help reduce and prevent separation anxiety in your dog by creating a positive association with your departure, and providing plenty of exercise and mental stimulation,
- A variety of training techniques, medication and non-prescription therapies are available to help treat separation anxiety
- To find out if your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety, take this quiz and get a customized report instantly
Table of Contents
What is Separation Anxiety?
Dogs suffering from Canine Separation Anxiety are overly attached to their owners and become extremely distressed when they’re home alone or anticipate being left alone. Their anxiety causes them to “act out” as part of their panic response.
In dogs with separation anxiety, the amygdala — the area of the brain responsible for processing emotions and detecting fear — goes into overdrive. The result is an imbalance of chemicals and hormones that leads to physical symptoms.
Today over 13 million dogs* in the U.S. suffer from separation anxiety, which has a huge impact on their quality of life and long-term well-being. The condition also puts a lot of stress on owners, who struggle to find solutions. In some cases, they give their dogs up to a shelter or rescue group.
* Assisi Animal Health Market Analysis, 2019.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Dogs with separation anxiety may exhibit one or more of these behaviors:
- Vocalizing: Barks, howls or whines as you’re leaving or when you’re gone
- Escaping: Chews or scratches at doors or windows in an attempt to escape from the home or other area of confinement (e.g., crate or exercise pen)
- Destructiveness: Chews or scratches household items when you’re gone
- Pacing: Constantly walks in a circle or back and forth as you’re leaving or when you’re gone
- Panting: Breathes heavily as you’re leaving or after you’re gone
- Self-Harm: Obsessively licks or chews paws, legs or tail when you’re gone
- Potty Accidents: Urinates and/or defecates when you’re gone, even though they’re housetrained
- Watchful Waiting: Constantly watches the door or stares out the window until you return
- Excessive Greetings: Overly excited when you return
- Shadowing: Insists on following you around when you’re home
If you think your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety, take this quick, free quiz to learn more and receive an instant customized report.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
A variety of factors can trigger separation anxiety in dogs:
- Moving to a new home or other change in environment
- Change in the family’s routine
- Losing or gaining a family member (animal or human)
- Other anxieties, such as a fear of noises
- No experience being left alone
- Traumatic experience when left alone
- Previously abandoned or rehomed
- Old age
- Weaned too early or the only puppy in the litter
- Genetic predisposition
Is it Separation Anxiety or Something Else?
Symptoms of separation anxiety can sometimes be caused by other issues. It’s important to rule these out first:
- An underlying medical condition, such as arthritis, an infection or cognitive decline
- A specific anxiety, such as fear of noises or strangers (social anxiety), or general anxiety
- Environmental triggers, such as hearing or seeing something outside
- Not fully housetrained
- Lack of exercise and mental stimulation: dogs that are bored will find ways to entertain themselves
- Common puppy behaviors, such as potty accidents and destructiveness
- Learned behavior
Does Your Dog Have Separation Anxiety?
Take our quick and free quiz to learn if your dog potentially suffers from separation anxiety.
Instant results and a customized report
What to Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
- Make an appointment with your veterinarian to examine your dog for any medical conditions that could be the cause of your dog’s behaviors.
- Keep track of when and for how long your dog exhibits problematic behaviors. Setting up a pet camera can give you the information you need.
- Talk with a veterinary professional or certified behavior consultant or dog trainer to determine the severity of your dog’s separation anxiety and ways you can help them.
- Don’t give up.
What Not to Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
- Avoid scolding your dog or using a shock collar or other bark control device. “Disciplining” your dog will cause more stress and fear.
- Never give a human medication to your dog without your veterinarian’s approval.
- Don’t ignore your dog’s behaviors. Separation anxiety doesn’t go away by itself.
Reducing and Preventing Separation Anxiety
There are many steps you can take to keep your dog’s anxiety from getting worse — or becoming a problem in the first place:
- If you have a puppy or young dog, make sure they spend some positive time alone.
- Start socializing your dog as soon as possible. Speak with your certified dog trainer about ways to do this if your puppy hasn’t yet finished their vaccinations.
- Give your dog an extra-special, long-lasting treat that only comes out when you leave, along with other safe and appropriate toys and food puzzles. This will help your dog see your departure as a positive thing.
- Keep your comings and goings low-key to help set a calm example for your dog.
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Most adult dogs need at least 30 minutes of activity a day. Giving your dog brisk walk or an energetic play session (e.g., a game of fetch) right before you leave can be especially helpful.
- Consider clicker training, or agility or nose work training to provide the mental stimulation your dog needs
- Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise:
- Take your dog on exploratory walks, letting them sniff to their heart’s content
- Try some fun brain games
- Consider crate training, which may reduce their stress.
Treating Separation Anxiety
How do you help a dog with separation anxiety? Although separation anxiety can be challenging to treat, there is hope. Consistency and patience are key. Your veterinarian, or a veterinary behaviorist, certified behavior consultant or certified dog trainer, can help you explore your options and create a plan of action.
“Separation anxiety can seem like a daunting condition to treat, but there is hope! By approaching your dog’s fear and anxiety with compassion, your dog will reap the benefits of a calmer state of mind and have the ability to cope with stressful moments.”
–Cathy Madson, MA, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
Counter conditioning and Desensitization
When treating canine separation anxiety, there are two behavior modification techniques that are used together. Counter conditioning helps your dog learn that good things happen when left alone. With desensitization, you slowly increase the amount of time your dog is left alone, never pushing your dog to the point of panic. These training techniques go hand-in-hand to help reduce your dog’s anxiety.
For the best results, work with a certified behavior consultant or dog trainer. An experienced professional can provide you with effective and positive training techniques, and help you identify your dog’s threshold for being left alone. A threshold is how long they can be alone before starting to exhibit signs of anxiety — for some dogs this can be just a few seconds, for others it can be longer. It’s extremely important to progress at your dog’s pace.
In more severe cases of separation anxiety, medication can be helpful — especially when used in combination with other training techniques and therapies. Talk with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist about medication options.
In addition to training techniques and medication, you can also explore calming wraps, supplements, pheromones, technology devices, and other non-prescription treatments.
The technology in Calmer Canine is scientifically proven, and FDA cleared for the treatment of humans with anxiety and mood disorders. The one-time cost associated with the device is much less than the monthly and yearly costs associated with many of the treatments that require monthly refills. Calmer Canine is a drug-free solution, and there are no reported side effects associated with the device. In a clinical study using Calmer Canine to treat dogs with separation anxiety, dogs saw significant improvement of separation anxiety symptoms with two fifteen-minute treatments daily for 4 to 6 weeks. These results were statistically significant. For many dogs, Calmer Canine stays effective at controlling the dog’s separation anxiety even after treatments are no longer being given.
Compression wearables have been shown to reduce heart rate, an indicator of anxiety, in dogs. The purchase price of these is less than the monthly and yearly costs associated with treatments that require monthly refills. There are no side effects associated with compression wearables. They are very simple to use and require little time to place on your dog, though some dogs require a period of adjustment to be comfortable wearing them, and if they’re not put on tightly enough, it can render them ineffective. The compression wearable is only effective when your dog is wearing it, and not all dogs experience relief of symptoms. In addition, the positive benefits may not last once they get used to the feeling of the wearable. Only some dogs see a reduction in separation anxiety symptoms when wearing them.
Medications formulated to treat separation anxiety are scientifically proven to treat it. The average yearly cost is much higher with pharmaceuticals than other solutions because of prescription refills. Often times, there can be negative side effects associated with them, including sedation. These take very little time each day to administer, but if your dog doesn’t like to take pills, pharmaceuticals could be difficult to use. Once your dog stops taking the medication, separation anxiety symptoms will likely return.
Dog Training (Behavior Modification):
A specific type of dog training, behavior modification using desensitization and counterconditioning, is a proven way to treat your dog’s separation anxiety, but the many sessions needed with a certified dog trainer can be expensive. There are no known negative side effects associated with behavior modification, but it can take months of time, and some strict programs require you not to leave your dog alone, which can have negative effects for you. While behavior modification is the most time and energy-intensive way to treat separation anxiety, if you’re able to follow through with your veterinary behaviorist’s or trainer’s program precisely as instructed, your dog will most likely see a reduction in symptoms. *Note that some degree of behavior modification training really should be done in conjunction with all of the solutions presented here. Many, if not most, behavior modification programs start with veterinarian prescribed medication. Calmer Canine may be used as an alternative to these medications, or in conjunction with them while starting a behavior modification program.
Most supplements have no scientific backing behind their claims to treat separation anxiety. The average yearly cost is high, because of the daily dose, but it is typically less expensive than pharmaceuticals. These supplements may have negative side effects, including stomach upset. The time required daily is low, and the effort needed (especially for non-pill supplements) is very low. Once your dog stops taking the supplement, separation anxiety symptoms will likely return.
While CBD is thought to help for a variety of different ailments, there is no conclusive evidence that it helps to treat separation anxiety. The average yearly cost is high, as CBD is given at least once daily. Most dogs do not have negative side effects with CBD, but because there is little regulation with these products, there is no guarantee that CBD has no side effects. Very little time per day is needed to administer the CBD, and with a variety of ways to give it like treats or oil, it is very easy to give to your dog. CBD requires continuous (daily) dosing to have any effects.
Not all pheromones have scientific proof for the treatment of separation anxiety. Many are thought to have a mild calming effect, at best. The average yearly cost is high because the diffusers and sprays need to be replaced many times per year. There are no known negative side effects associated with pheromone use. The average time required to implement this solution is very low, and pheromone diffusers and sprays are very easy to use. When your dog no longer smells these pheromones, their separation anxiety symptoms will return. Also, if used for long periods of time, the pheromone may stop working completely, as your dog may get used to the presence of the pheromone.