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Dog Separation Anxiety: 10 Ways to Calm an Anxious Dog

The time is approaching when we begin to face a new ‘normal’. For some of us, this means putting away the activewear for something more professional and heading back into the office. Whether you’ve lived through the last 18 months of the pandemic with your familiar furry companion, or if you’ve added a dog to your family during this time, a change to routine may be a little unsettling for your pet.  

Here, we talk through the signs of separation anxiety in dogs and the ways you can look to minimise it as your new daily routines take shape for you and your furry Zoom call buddy.  

What is dog separation anxiety and its symptoms? 

Anxiety is an emotional response that happens when we feel nervous or fearful about past events or what might happen in the future. Separation anxiety in dogs happens when a dog gets highly stressed when they’re left alone. They will be worried that you’ve gone and may not return (possible for rescue dogs that may have experienced this in the past), or they may just be frustrated without you there.  You might see some of the following behaviours in your pet, which they normally don’t show: 

  • Increased vocalisation, including barking, howling and whining, especially when you leave the house 
  • Destructive behaviour, such as excessive chewing, scratching and digging up the garden 
  • Pacing around the house in repetitive patterns 
  • Panting and drooling more than usual 
  • Having accidents in the house, despite being well trained 
  • Trying to escape when they’re usually content being at home  
  • More aggressive behaviour than usual 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Attention seeking behaviours  
  • Vomiting, diarrohea  
  • Self-mutilation 
  • Fearful behaviour like shaking or shivering  

What causes dog separation anxiety? 

Separation anxiety in dogs can be triggered by changes to the amount of time that we spend with our pets and the following situations: 

  • The family going back to work and school after a long summer holiday 
  • Returning to the office after maternity or parental leave
  • Going back to work if you’ve been unemployed for a long time 
  • If you’ve been recovering from illness or injury at home and return to work 
  • The loss of a family member your pet was close to 
  • As COVID-19 restrictions lift and we’re present in our workplaces again 
  • A loss or addition of another pet in the household
  • The pet suddenly changing homes or surroundings 
  • A predisposition to anxiety 
  • Age-related changes such as Canine Cognitive Disfunction (doggie dementia), with loss of hearing or sight causing anxiousness.

Owner saying goodbye to dog in hallway

How to calm separation anxiety in your dog 

To prepare for spending more time away from your furry office assistant, the aim is to create a balanced environment where they feel calm and comfortable.  

Affection is not a solution 

Patting, cuddling or even telling your dog it’s okay when they are displaying signs of separation anxiety is inadvertently letting them know that this behaviour is acceptable. Even when you’re home, it’s important to let your dog have independence from you. Never punish or reprimand your dog for their anxious behaviour, as it’s an illness and the behaviour is not intentional.  

Routine is key 

As best as you can, make routine times for meals, exercise and bedtime, making this consistent with what will happen in on the days when you’ll be in your office and spending time at home.  

Create a safe space 

This is space just for your dog. It can include their crate, blankets, bed and toys and should be a space they can retreat to when they might be feeling, stressed, agitated or tired. Also ensure that nearby windows are securely closed and your dog doesn’t have access to a verandah, which can be deadly in the event of attempted escapes in high-rise apartments.  

Stay connected to your pet 

Leaving a piece of your clothing with your dog that you’ve recently worn can be comforting to them. Place it in their crate or bed, so that it can help them feel secure and cosy.  

Pet cameras let you observe your pet while you’re away and you can even speak with them or dispense treats to them remotely, so they know you’re not so far away. Remember to use treats appropriately to reinforce positive behaviour and not as a reward for anxious behaviour. 

Physical exercise 

If time permits, fit in some gentle exercise with your dog before you leave for the day. The endorphins from exercise can help to put your pet in a happier state and can work off some excess energy that may have them feeling frustrated during the time alone. For games that will get your pet really excited, like ball chasing, avoid them just prior to leaving the house, so that your dog isn’t too excited as you leave. 

Mental stimulation 

Boredom can be a cause of separation anxiety in dogs, so it’s important to leave them with plenty to keep them occupied while you’re away. This can include interactive toys or games, for example: 

  • Fill a KONG toy with food and give it to your dog as you leave the house, to keep them occupied for the next 30 minutes 
  • A snuffle mat with kibble of small treats hidden inside is also great for intellectual stimulation 

Be cautious when selecting chew toys to leave with your dog when you’re not around. These should be durable enough that they won’t break or create a choking hazard.  

Low key goodbyes and hellos 

Creating lots of excitement during farewells and greetings can be a sign that you’re about to leave for the day and be a trigger for separation anxiety. While it might take some willpower, practice showing your dog very little attention 15-30 minutes before leaving the house, as well as 15-30 minutes after you arrive home again, then greeting your dog quietly and calmly.  

Similarly, if the sound of you picking up your keys, putting on shoes or starting your car is a signal that triggers your pet to think you’re leaving, practice doing this so that your dog understands this is just a low-key activity, and not necessarily associated with you leaving the house.  

Practice short times away from home and your pet 

Ease into being apart from your pet. This might mean simply working in a different room from your pet (if you’ve become accustomed to a friendly lap-companion on your Zoom calls). Then, try extending your time apart by doing some errands out of the house for a little longer than usual.  

Supplements may help 

For a holistic approached to minimising separation anxiety symptoms, supplements may be useful. ZamiPet Relax & Calm is specially formulated with L-Tryptophan, Valerian Root and Chamomile & L-theanine (the calming ingredient in green tea) to support a healthy nervous system in dogs and may reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. 

Dog day care 

If your dog really thrives in a social environment, consider finding a reputable dog day care near you.  

Severe signs of separation anxiety in dogs 

If you’re concerned about the signs of separation anxiety that your dog is showing, a trip to the vet might be the best course of action. Your vet can help to identify the possible causes and triggers of your dog’s anxiety, rule-out any possible medical conditions, and formulate the best treatment plan. This may be a combination of behavioural training, pre-emptive strategies, supplements, and for more serious cases, medication. 

Disclaimer: This information is general advice only. Before starting any treatment or supplement with your pet, please consult your vet first for the best approach to getting your pet back to their best health.