“My dog has anxiety. What can I do?”
The one question we get asked more than any other is “What causes dog separation anxiety?” And while there are many answers to this complex and tricky issue, it remains important for us know that some dogs may suffer from what seems like an inability being apart form their owners. In today’s post I will clear up the different types of anxieties in pets–their symptoms, how they differ from regular fears/anxiety disorders that humans experience on occasion (like stage fright), plus provide tips for creating a own calm space so you and your pet can better relax!
Separation anxiety is a medical condition characterized by the dog’s inability to cope without their person(s). Dogs are pack animals, so it makes sense that they prefer sticking together; however – despite this preference-a dog with separation anxiety will find itself unable to relax when left alone because of three key emotional conditions:
1. Fear (which manifests in both body and mind)
2. Anxiety stemming from anticipation of what could happen if you’re gone too long or become
3. Phobia, which is just built upon excessive fear
Understanding the Problem
The first step to helping your dog overcome separation anxiety is to understand the problem. Remember, dog’s are pack animals by nature. This is why separation anxiety occurs when a dog is separated from their owner, and it can manifest in different ways. Some dogs may start barking uncontrollably, while others may try to escape from the house or destroy furniture. Separation anxiety is a real problem for dogs, and it can be tough to watch them suffer. But don’t worry, there are steps you can take to help your dog cope.
The Reality Behind Anxiety in Dogs
You might be surprised to know that dog’s can experience anxiety in a very similar way to the way we do. A dog’s anxiety can come through in many different manors and it’s always best to speak to your vet since they will know whether your dog is dealing with separation anxiety or one of the following:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Fear of everyday life events with no clear reasoning)
- Noise phobia (fear of thunderstorms or fireworks)
- Territorial aggression
- Compulsive disorders (chewing on their feet, tail chasing or excessive licking of body parts)
- Normal puppy destructive behaviour (it’s true! If your puppy is destroying things, it’s quite normal. Just remember to use reinforcement to train them)
Anxiety related misconceptions
- Presuming your dog is “acting out” due to vengeance or spite. Dogs’ brains don’t have the capacity to behave this way; they lack the ability for advance planning and the emotional centers are much smaller than in a human brain. Ultimately, separation is a matter of stress, distress, and responding to pet parent cues—not anger, disappointment, or another human emotion.
- Feeling guilty over leaving because your dog loves you too much to be left alone. There’s no question your dog loves you (especially when they’re treated to a WoofCrate dog subscription box every month!).
- Loneliness can be cured with a companion. This will certainly help to keep them happier and who doesn’t want more dogs! But don’t expect a new pup in the house to completely eradicate their anxiety. The anxiety stems from an attachment to the pack leader aka you!
Find and Use Strategies That Work
- Get them used to being alone slowly: If you’ve never left your dog alone before, they’re going to need some time to get used to it. Start by leaving them alone for short periods of time, like 10 minutes, and gradually increase the amount of time as they get more comfortable. Make sure you always leave on a positive note so they associate being alone with good things happening. Remember, because we’re dealing with a genetic predisposition, the adjustment process is necessarily gradual. Depending on age and intensity, your treatment plan may start with small increments like building comfort with you approaching the door, reaching the door, and getting to the other side of the door.
- Designating a safe space (with as much space as possible). One of the best ways to help your dog cope with separation anxiety is to create a safe space for them. This could be a crate or a small room where they feel comfortable and can relax. Put their favorite toys in the space and make sure it’s quiet and calm. This will be their safe place to go when you leave them alone.
- Creating consistent interactions. All members of your household and any other supports (doggy daycare workers, for example) should try to interact and react to your dog in the same way day to day. That way they can become settled knowing that they don’t need to expect something different.
- Teaching your dog to settle through relaxation training. Every dog is different, but you may find that relaxing music for dogs will do the trick!
- Supplementing with medications. Your vet may prescribe certain anti-anxiety medications
- Natural remedies. Additional help may also come from things like calm diets, CBD, Adaptil pheromones, zylkene, or anxitane.
Separation anxiety is a real problem for dogs, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. With some patience and training, you can help your dog overcome separation anxiety and enjoy being alone again. Just remember to take things slowly at first and always end on a positive note