Top 5 tips to help with canine separation anxiety

canine separation anxiety

Does your dog follow you everywhere at home? Do they get vocal when you’re suddenly out of sight? There’s a good chance you’re dealing with a case of separation anxiety. Turramurra Veterinary Hospital’s Dr Gretta Howard explains canine separation anxiety and how this behavioural problem can be managed with the right approach.

Separation anxiety is a common but often debilitating behaviour problem in dogs with hyper-attachment to their owner. If your dog tends to follow you everywhere around the house and becomes anxious or vocal when you are out of sight, then your dog may have or be at risk of developing separation anxiety. Here’s everything you need to know about canine separation anxiety and tips to help your dog.

What are the signs of separation anxiety?

These dogs are fearful of being left alone and may exhibit signs, including:

  • Destructive behaviour at home
  • Excessive barking/whining
  • Excessive salivation
  • Self-mutilation
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Vomiting or toileting inside the house

The dog is definitely not being naughty in revenge for being left alone in the house. Daily panic attacks can affect an animal’s quality of life and lead to chronic stress and suppression of the immune system, so it is important to seek treatment for this problem.

What is the cause of separation anxiety?

 canine separation anxiety

Separation anxiety may be initiated by a change in the owner’s routine, owner returning to working in the office, moving to a new home, after a stay in a kennel, a new baby or new pet in the household or a medical problem. Sometimes the dog has a genetic predisposition to anxiety and separation from one or more family members triggers the signs.

Coming out of lockdown may appear to be causing separation anxiety, but the reality is that the majority of neurotypical dogs will be resilient enough to adapt to this change of routine fairly quickly, particularly if it involves some positive reinforcement. So, while lockdown has been blamed as the cause of separation anxiety in dogs, the return to work has likely exacerbated pre-existing anxiety that was previously masked by having their owners around 24/7.

How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?

Observing your dog with a webcam or similar device with sound available is an excellent way to determine how your dog is coping with you leaving the house and whether they have canine separation anxiety. Neighbours may not be able to determine the full extent of your dog’s anxiety, as they are only aware of whether your dog is barking – and not all dogs bark when they are anxious. While it can be distressing to know the state your dog is in after you leave, video is an important monitoring tool.

How do I manage the situation?

Unwanted behaviours are exacerbated when a dog is allowed to ‘practise’ these undesirable behaviours, so leaving them for extended periods in this state of extreme fear will only make matters worse. It’s certainly not a simple training exercise to deal with separation anxiety, because your dog has an abnormal response to being left alone. Barking collars are completely inappropriate for anxious dogs and will exacerbate their fear. They may be a short-term noise solution but are considered a welfare concern for truly anxious dogs.

See if your dog will tolerate short lengths of time alone in a different room while you are in the house. In the initial stages of management, you may need to organise a ‘dog sitter’ during the day if you cannot be at home or take your dog with you.

5 tips to help your dog stay relaxed when you’re leaving the house

 canine separation anxiety

1. Positive, gradual separations at your dog’s pace

If you have some time before you have to head back to work, gradually increase the time your dog spends home alone. For new dogs in your household, start with just the ‘calm transition to departure’ below and head out the front door and then come straight back inside. Build up 5 minutes at a time to 30 minutes before making bigger time jumps. Practice this at least twice daily.

2. Calm transition to departure

5-10 minutes prior to leaving, give your dog a chew or treat toy (using it to lead your dog into their home alone space if needed). Stay where your dog can physically reach you, but don’t directly interact. After 5-10 minutes calmly leave.

3. Calm arrival home

On arrival home, scatter treats on the ground to reduce jumping up and calmly acknowledge your dog (massage, stroking, slow-talking). No excitable voices or play for the first 5 minutes.

4. Leave continuous music playing

While TV or radio works for some dogs, most do best without the talk breaks. Classical music has been clinically proven to soothe dogs.

5. Try an Adaptil diffuser

Try Adaptil diffuser in the home alone space or near your dog’s bed. This is a calming pheromone that is canine-specific with no side effects. You can get this product from Turramurra Veterinary Hospital over the counter.

Turramurra Veterinary Hospital can help

If your dog or puppy does not settle quickly with these tips, then your first point of call should be an appointment with one of the veterinarians at Turramurra Veterinary Hospital to examine your dog and assess the behaviour. It may be necessary to use anti-anxiety medication alongside a behaviour modification program to help your dog.  Training will not be effective if your dog is too anxious to learn and punishment is never appropriate in these cases.

During the initial consultation, they will take a detailed history and it is helpful if you have video footage of your dog’s behaviour or photographic evidence if your dog is destructive, to help them assess the situation.

Like any other medical problem, such as diabetes, often these dogs require medical intervention to lessen the anxiety in order for the dog to properly function. Medication may be short term or long term, varying from case to case.

For dogs with a mild stress response or cases where the owner is not gone for long periods, medication can be used as required about 1.5 hours before you leave. If the dog is alone for long periods of time and there is severe anxiety, a daily administered medication may be needed.

A physical examination and a blood test will usually be required prior to starting medication to ensure your dog is healthy and there is no underlying disease that may be contributing to the behaviour problem.

It is important to be aware that medication alone is not a quick fix and the vets at Turramurra Veterinary Hospital work closely with their Pet Behaviour Consultant, Katie Bedrossian, who can assist you with setting your dog up for success with important environmental modifications at home. So, your initial veterinary consultation is then followed up with a series of one-on-one behaviour-specific consultations to get you and your dog on track and provide an individual management plan.

The Turramurra Veterinary Hospital team is dedicated to assisting owners with their dog’s behavioural challenges to ensure they have the happiest life possible with their families.  

Essential Details: Turramurra Veterinary Hospital

Turramurra Veterinary Hospital is conducting face-to-face consultations and welcoming your online bookings or alternatively by calling their customer care team on (02) 9988-0198.


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