How to Deal with Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety in dogs is often triggered when they get upset about their humans leaving, even for a brief amount of time. There are different signs you will notice when this happens. But how can you deal with separation anxiety, and can it be fixed?

Separation anxiety occurs when a dog overly connected to their person becomes extremely worried when left alone. It’s more than a bit of whining before you leave or some trouble while you’re gone. It’s a terrible condition that causes owners to become frustrated with their dogs and give them up. However, there are numerous things you may do to assist.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety causes worry, perplexity, and tension in dogs. When a dog is left alone and separated from its owner, they experience separation anxiety. Dogs can feel varying levels of separation anxiety, ranging from minor whining to extreme behaviors such as damaging their environment. Among the symptoms of separation anxiety are:

  • Drooling and Panting: When dogs are anxious, they may pant and drool excessively.
  • Crying, Barking, or Whining: When separated from their family, dogs cry, bark, or howl incessantly.
  • Urinating or Defecating: Even if they are housebroken, dogs with separation anxiety will urinate or defecate when left alone.
  • Destructive Behavior: Dogs with extreme separation anxiety will dig or chew on furniture or exit points like doors, window sills, or other easily accessible objects. This is not only destructive, but it can also be harmful and injure your dog.
  • Escaping: Some dogs will seek to depart their home, yard, or kennel to find their owners.
  • Pacing: Pacing frequently at the door where the person used to leave is typical behavior in dogs suffering from separation anxiety.
  • Stress Colitis: Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety for an extended period may develop colitis. Colitis is an inflammation of the large colon that causes diarrhea.

How is Separation Anxiety Different in Dogs and Humans?

While it comes to what seems normal when separated, dogs and humans are vastly different. Humans mature into independent adults who can live away from their parents.

Humans seem to leave naturally to go to the grocery, out to eat, to work, or even on vacation. In today’s social isolation and quarantine environment, most people find it unnatural and uncomfortable to stay inside all the time.

Dogs, on the other hand, are pack animals. Animals that live in groups nearly always hunt, rest, eat, and even raise their young together. The pack occasionally split up, although they usually do so in groups, rarely leaving them all by themselves.

Animals in packs feel safer together because it is simpler to hunt as a group, and there is safety in numbers. It is ingrained behavior even though our dogs no longer require that level of security to survive. 

How Can You Manage Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety, according to experts, can be a symptom of a more significant problem in the dog-human relationship. Regrettably, pet owners can inadvertently contribute to some of these issues.

Training your dog to be independent during the hours you are together is vital in dealing with separation anxiety and the foundation of a successful connection.

When a dog is given limitless, unrestricted access to affection, attention, hugs, furniture time, belly rubs, and baby talk from its owner, it can grow dependent on those rewards. When such items are suddenly removed because the human has left the room or house, especially for an extended period, the dog cannot remain quiet and believes it is safe to relax until its owner returns. Make sure you’re setting limits with your dog in your daily life and creating moments when you’re apart and still at home.

Experts caution owners to avoid encouraging the behavior they are attempting to prevent. If your dog is pacing, whining, barking, and your pet cuddles or starts using baby talk, you’re encouraging those behaviors. Furthermore, punishing your dog for being destructive or eliminating them in the house due to nervousness will make them more scared. 

How to Train a Dog with Separation Anxiety?

The steps below outline a desensitization and counterconditioning approach in detail. Please keep in mind that this is a brief overview.

Step One: Pre-departure Cues

While their guardians prepare to go, some dogs become worried. When a dog watches his guardian applying makeup, putting on shoes and a coat, and then picking up a bag or car keys, he may begin to pace, pant, and whimper. If your dog does not exhibit indications of worry when you prepare to leave him alone, skip stepping two below. Dog guardians who become agitated during pre-departure rituals cannot leave, even for a few seconds, without triggering their dogs’ acute fear. Your dog may notice telltale signs that you’re going, such as putting on your coat or picking up your keys and become so frightened about being alone that he loses control and forgets you’ll return.

One strategy for treating pre-departure anxiety is to teach your dog that picking up your keys or putting on your coat does not always imply you’re leaving. You may accomplish this by introducing your dog to these cues in different sequences numerous times a day without leaving. Instead of going, put on your boots and coat and sit in front of the TV. Alternatively, pick up your keys and sit at the kitchen table. This will lessen your dog’s anxiety because these signs will not always result in your departure, and your dog will not become as frightened when he sees them. Please remember that your dog has spent many years learning the meaning of your departure cues. 

Therefore, for your dog to learn that the cues no longer predict your long absences, the fake cues must be experienced many times each day for many weeks. You can proceed to the next phase if your dog does not grow concerned when he sees you getting ready to depart.

Step Two: Graduated Departures or Absences

If your dog is less nervous before you go, you can probably skip the pre-departure therapy and start with short trips. The basic idea is to schedule your absences so that they are less than the time it takes your dog to grow agitated. To begin, teach your dog to conduct out-of-sight stays near an inside door, such as the bathroom. You may train your dog to sit or down and stay while you go to the bathroom on the other side of the door.

Increase the time you wait on the other side of the door, away from your dog. You can also concentrate on getting your dog familiar with pre-departure cues as you practice the stay. For instance, tell your dog to stay. Then put on your coat, grab your bag, and head into the toilet while your dog remains.

  • Progression to out-of-sight stay exercises at a bedroom door, then an exit door. Do the activities at the back door first if you always depart by the front entrance. Because your dog has a history of playing the stay game, he should not be concerned when you begin working with him at exit doors.
  • You can now begin to add extremely brief absences into your training. Begin with brief absences of one to two seconds, then gradually increase the amount of time you are out of your dog’s sight. When you’ve trained your dog to five to ten-second separations, incorporate counterconditioning by giving him a filled food toy before you walk out the door. The food-stuffed toy also serves as a safety cue, informing the dog that the separation is safe.
  • Make sure to wait a few minutes between absences during your sessions. It’s critical to ensure your dog is comfortable after each brief separation before you depart. If you leave right away while your dog is still enthusiastic about your return from the last separation, he will be aroused when the next absence occurs. This excitement may make him less tolerant of the next separation, making the problem worse rather than better.
  • Remember to be very calm and quiet when walking out and coming in. This will reduce the contrast between when you’re present and when you’re not.
  • It would be best to determine when your dog can endure an increase in separation time. Because each dog behaves differently, there are no set deadlines. Deciding when to increase your dog’s alone time can be challenging, and many pet parents make mistakes. They want treatment to move rapidly, so they expose their pets to excessively prolonged periods, which causes anxiety and worsens the disease. To avoid this error, keep an eye out for tension indicators in your dog. Dilated pupils, panting, yawning, drooling, trembling, pacing, and effusive welcome are some indications. If you notice stress, back up and reduce the length of your departures until your dog can calm down again. Then restart at that level and proceed more slowly.
  • Because most of your dog’s fearful responses will occur within the first 40 minutes of being alone, you will need to spend a significant amount of time building up to 40-minute absences. This implies that after a few weeks of conditioning, you’ll increase the time of your absences by a few seconds each session, or every couple of sessions, depending on your dog’s tolerance at each level. Once your dog can withstand 40 minutes of separation from you, you can gradually extend the length of your absences. If your dog can be left alone for 90 minutes without becoming unhappy or frightened, he can undoubtedly withstand four to eight hours.
  • If you can schedule numerous sessions on weekends and twice daily during the work week, usually before leaving for work and in the evenings, you can complete this treatment process in a matter of weeks.

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