Dogs can be needy — anyone that’s been barged in on while in the bathroom can attest to this. But if your pup can’t be alone without showing signs of stress, they’ve probably surpassed neediness and are experiencing separation anxiety. While this condition is super common in dogs (and cats, too), it’s not the easiest to remedy. Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian Dr. Aliya McCullough is here to share tips on helping your best friend feel better.
Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs
Separation anxiety can put a lot of stress on dogs, to the point where they can harm themselves or damage your home. If you think your dog is struggling with separation anxiety, look for the following signs:
- Howling, barking or crying while you’re away
- Signs of nervousness while you’re preparing to leave
- Going to the bathroom in the house
- Destructive behavior when left alone (like tearing up pillows or toys)
How to help your dog with separation anxiety
Luckily, separation anxiety in dogs is usually manageable — but, it may take some time to get under control. If you can, start slow by only leaving your pet alone for short periods. Dogs need time to learn that their parents only leave them temporarily. Here are some other ways to ease your pet’s worry, including:
- Get puzzles or toys that dispense treats to keep your pet occupied. If you don’t want to buy anything new, hide vet-approved, food-stuffed toys around the house. Talk to your vet about what items are safe to leave your pup with when you’re not around.
- Create a relaxing environment for your dog by leaving an audiobook or music on so that the house isn’t silent. Don’t leave the television on, though, as it could be overstimulating.
- Use pet-sitting or dog-walking services to get your pet out of the house (but make sure they’re comfortable with their walker).
- Consider daycare for your dog (socializing may have a positive effect on them).
- Practice leaving your dog (if only for a couple of minutes at first). Prepare to go, say goodbye and stand outside of the door — then come back inside. Keep doing this until your pup feels more comfortable, and try to extend the amount of time you leave each time.
- Remain quiet during your hellos and goodbyes. Ignoring your dog for 15 to 30 minutes before leaving or after arriving home can help keep them calm.
- For shorter amounts of time away from home, it may be beneficial to put your dog in their crate (if they’re already comfortable with it). As natural den animals, dogs sometimes feel safer in their own space.
- Avoid leaving your pet in areas with lots of windows or doors, as this stimulation could make them more anxious.
- Meet your dog’s basic needs. Then, make sure they have enough exercise, attention and mental stimulation (for example, sniff walks, where you take your dog to a new area) before you leave.
Here’s what not to do when managing your dog’s separation anxiety:
- Never punish your dog. Yelling, spraying water and implementing shock collars often make anxiety worse.
- Medication alone often doesn’t work. Ask your vet about a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist to help treat this condition.
Our biggest tip when helping your dog overcome separation anxiety: get advice from your vet. They can give you perspective and recommendations about working with a veterinary behaviorist. With a bit of time, practice and professional advice, your dog will be more confident when it comes to solo time.