Separation anxiety in dogs and how you can beat it

Separation anxiety in dogs can be destructive if left unchecked. Here are some tips and experiences to reduce anxiety and bad behaviour.
Separation anxiety in dogs

If you have ever had a rescue dog, you may have had to deal with separation anxiety. My dog, Penny, is a rescue and she’s a big dog. She’s a kind of canine chimaera of Lurcher/Greyhound legs, Labrador head and body and all the common sense of a log. She has a wonderful temperament though, given her sad start in life.

Penny isn’t destructive and she doesn’t do dirty protests – got to be thankful for small mercies – but she is a barker. Given her size, when she barks the whole street hears.

Before lockdown when I was out at work, I had a few run-ins with my neighbours about her barking – even though my partner and the kids were usually home. Since lockdown, I’ve been working from home and have had time to focus on her behaviour and have managed to reduce her panting, her pacing and her need to bark at the postie, the bin men, delivery drivers and anyone wearing a crash helmet.

I’ve shared some tips below from RSPCA below that helped me and I’m sure will also be successful for you. But first what are the symptoms of separation anxiety?

What are the signs of separation anxiety?

If your dog is anxious, it may show some of these signs when left :

  • barking/howling
  • whining
  • pacing
  • trembling
  • panting
  • drooling
  • destructive behaviour such as chewing shoes, scratching doors and furniture
  • weeing and pooing in the house

Anxiety has nothing to do with obedience or the hierarchical relationship with you or the rest of the family. As with any form of dog training the solution must be taken slowly, with patience and once done the problem should not reoccur.

Tips to help your dog overcome anxiety

The RSPCA recommends owners try the following tips:

  • Be calm, consistent and predictable with your dog.
  • Reward good behaviour with your attention or with treats.
  • Start and finish all interactions with your dog.
  • Ignore any attention seeking.
  • Never punish your dog as this will harm your relationship and may make your dog scared of you.
  • If your dog looks ‘guilty’ s/he has simply learned that you are sometimes angry when you return home. Your dog is not able to associate your anger with something s/he did while you were out.
  • Leave your dog alone for gradually increasing periods of time. To begin with, leave your dog for a minute and gradually increase the time you are away.
  • Give your dog something nice to do whilst you are away. For example, leave a tasty chew or a durable rubber toy filled with food.

While my experience with Penny was a success, the same cannot be said of my mother-in-law’s relationship with her dog. Gizmo is also a rescue dog. He’s a very pampered, spoiled, overweight Corgi/Jack Russell cross and he’s getting on a bit.

Gizmo had never been outdoors before his previous owner gave him up to an animal rescue centre and it’s likely that is where his behavioural anxiety first started. I don’t believe the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, so we’re in the process of encouraging him to ditch his bad habits.

Coming home to chewed shoes and cushions along with poo and wee is enough to draw a negative reaction from any pet owner, but getting angry and shouting at your dog will have no positive result. Gizmo is on the right path, he’s making small steps and we’re not trying too much too early. We’re gradually increasing the frequency that he is on his own and always offer praise and try to make him stay in his bed.

The plan over the coming months is to normalise leaving him for brief periods. We close the door on leaving the room but return shortly after – and gradually allow the time to build between leaving and returning. The idea is to vary the times so much that he can’t anticipate when we’ll return.

If you want to try this, remember always to build up slowly and within the dog’s capability. If your dog can tolerate one hour alone, it will accept longer periods, so this should be your goal.

It’s important to remember that each dog is unique, just because they show anxiety now doesn’t mean they will do so forever – Penny is living proof of that. It may take some trial and error to find what works best for your dog but with patience and consistency, you can help your dog overcome separation anxiety and enjoy a happier, more relaxed life.

If you found Separation anxiety in dogs and how you can beat it helpful, you’ll find more tips for managing pet anxiety on our Pets channel.

Tags: , , Last modified: February 23, 2023

Written by 4:27 pm Pets