Top Tips: Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the most common, yet most undiagnosed behavioural problems in dogs. The symptoms of excessive barking, whining, self-mutilation, urination and defecation can take a significant toll on both dogs and owners. It can also result in many dogs being labelled as “naughty”, with the real cause of the condition going undetected. Luckily separation anxiety is now widely understood by veterinarians, and many management options can decrease and even eradicate the condition.

Separation anxiety is your dog’s reaction to being away from you. As dogs are SOCIAL animals, it’s normal for a puppy to become attached to their litter and then subsequently to the human that becomes their master. It’s also normal for a dog to get bored when his/ her owner leaves the house or to occasionally whine, bark, and act destructively. What distinguishes separation anxiety from day-to-day mischievousness is that in separation anxiety, the behaviours occur only in the owner’s absence

Some signs of separation anxiety can be a dug-up garden, a torn-up house, or neighbours reporting loud barking. Other people notice it as they prepare to leave the house. The dog sees cues that his/ her owner is leaving (like picking up keys, putting on shoes or applying make-up), and begins to bark, scratch or become hyperactive.

Eight key techniques to help your dog with separation anxiety:

1       Reward desirable calm behaviour

2       Train your dog

3       Encourage independence

4       Ignore your dog for several minutes before you leave the house and then again when you get home.  Only give attention to your dog when their anxious behaviour reduces.

5       Give your dog a long-lasting chew item 5 minutes before you leave the house and with minimal interaction

6       Walk your dog at least twice a day for a minimum of 15-30 minutes each time.

7       Break associations that cue to your dog when you are about to leave the house.

8       Anti‐anxiety medication

Confinement can often increase anxiety. While it may be necessary to prevent self-injury or damage to the house, try to reduce confinement as much as possible. If appropriate, stacked baby gates in a room or a crate if they have been trained to use one.

Systematic desensitisation to departures can be useful and is the best way to teach your pet to be alone.  Please ask out staff for more information or organise an appointment with our vet trained in this field.

Separation anxiety often worsens in winter. With the reduced daylight hours and cold weather, dogs may be walked less often. Where possible, owners need to keep up the same routines and exercise regimes in winter as they do in summer.