In this article:
- What is dog separation anxiety and its symptoms?
- What causes dog separation anxiety?
- How to calm separation anxiety in your dog
- Severe separation anxiety in dogs
Our dogs are pack animals, so can experience fear and anxiety when separated from other members of their family, especially if the separation is out of their usual routine.
Here, we talk through dog separation anxiety symptoms and the ways you can look to minimise them as your new daily routines take shape for you and your best furry 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
- 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.
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, through dog separation anxiety training and positive, new habits.
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.
Develop a predictable routine for your dog
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 for your dog when you're not around
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.
Ensure your dog is getting adequate 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.
Provide your dog with opportunities for mental stimulation
Boredom can be a cause of separation anxiety in dogs, so it’s important to leave them with dog separation anxiety toys, 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.
Practice 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.
Learn more about supplements to reduce your dog's anxiety
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.
Explore doggie day care for sociable dogs
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 behaviour that your dog is showing, a trip to the vet might be the best course of action for medication for dog separation anxiety. 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.
The information in this article was checked by ZamiPet Veterinarian and General Manager Dr Andrew McKay, BVSc, University of Melbourne, 2000. Vet Registration No: V3985
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.