Your pup has been acting rather strange of late. So strange that you fear she has separation anxiety. But, does she? Maybe, maybe not. So, what are dog separation anxiety symptoms? And what are some available tips to help your dog if she has it?
It’s not always easy to tell if a dog has separation anxiety.
If she’s following you everywhere, laying near your feet as you cook in the kitchen, or snuggling with you while you watch TV, it may simply be a matter of clinginess. Nothing to worry about.
But, if she acts panicky when you leave her side. Or howls/barks excessively when you create some distance between you and her.
Or you’re regularly coming home to chewed upholstery and bite/claw marks on your doors and windows; maybe also finding poop around, even though she’s housebroken. Then, it may be a case of separation anxiety.
Still, your dog doing any one or two of the acts above occasionally may not necessarily indicate she has separation anxiety. So, how do you know for sure if your particular case is one of separation anxiety?
What is separation anxiety in dogs?
It’s easy to think of separation anxiety as a diagnosis of some sort that needs a particular type of treatment.
However, research shows that separation anxiety in and of itself isn’t necessarily THE problem. Rather, it’s a term that envelopes a range of underlying frustrations a dog exhibits when she experiences the absence of her guardian.
Think of tummy aches for instance. Having a tummy ache doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad medical condition.
And you cannot put a firm label on it. It may be because of something you ate or because of an infection/inflammation somewhere in your body.
It’s the same for separation anxiety in dogs. It ranges on a spectrum. And it includes different behavioral problems or frustrations your dog shows when she feels abandoned by you.
Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, in her booklet, I’ll Be Home Soon likens separation anxiety in dogs to panic attacks.
And with the dog feeling utterly helpless about the situation, she goes into panic mode and cannot help but let out her frustration in a variety of ways.
She may do this by barking/howling rapidly, chewing on things, knocking over objects, or trying to escape through your door or windows.
The Types Of Separation Anxiety In Dogs
According to animal behavioral researchers, 22.3 to 55% of the general dog population are believed to exhibit signs of separation anxiety. Or rather, separation-related problems, as the research puts it.
The comprehensive research was conducted by scientists from the University of Lincoln, UK in 2020. More than 100 dog breeds constituting over 2,700 dogs were included in the study.
More importantly, the research suggests that there are four main forms of separation anxiety. They include;
A dog exhibits this form of behavioral frustration by chewing at and clawing at the exits of the house.
Dogs within this category go panicky immediately after you leave them behind. To feel safe again, they’ll attempt following you out the door.
But, of course, by this time, the door would have been closed, leaving them to cope with your absence.
To cope with their frustration, they try to attack the exact exit used by you. And they’ll do this by scratching or chewing on the exit points of your home. In addition, they may also chew on medium-sized objects lying around the house.
Dogs in this category may exhibit similar signs as those within the first group. So, you may find your dog chewing medium-sized objects around or chewing at the exits of the home.
But, the one thing that differentiates dogs within this group from the first is that dogs in this category are highly reactive to external events. And they’ll direct their focus to people or animals that approach while remaining highly stimulated.
A good example would be where you’ve left such a dog in your car to get groceries. The dog might attempt to claw at the windows in frustration because of your absence.
If any person approaches the car, the dog might bark aggressively at him and may even attempt getting at him. But, of course, the glass barrier means she won’t be able to. So, the dog is going to keep her high energy levels up till you probably come back.
While dogs within this group are likely to react to external stimuli like those in the second group they’re less likely to get at these stimuli.
Dogs within this category are more low-spirited and have an avoidant nature. Thus, they won’t be as highly stimulated in directing their energies to external stimuli.
You’ll find your dog – if she’s in this category – whining a lot in your absence. Or peeing and defecating around when you’re not home.
Dogs in this category are simply “bored.” They may bark and react to stimuli like those dogs in the two groups immediately above.
Yet, these dogs can easily adapt to the situation of their owner’s absence. And their reaction to the owner’s absence is simply because of a lack of stimulation.
If your dog is in this category, all she needs is a lot more engagement to get her busy. Toys, going for walks, and playing fetch are great ways to fix this issue.
Otherwise, as time goes on, her frustration may increasingly cause her to react a lot more to external stimuli. Just like dogs in the second group.
What are dog separation anxiety symptoms?
As we’ve established, separation anxiety isn’t necessarily a diagnosis in itself. And you may not always be able to tell if a dog has separation anxiety simply because she exhibits a few signs.
The signs/symptoms, though, are at the heart of the issue. And they are great indicators of your dog’s frustration at trying to get away from the house, inability to get to external stimuli or even boredom.
A dog that senses her owner leaving the house will attempt to follow. Supposing you leave and lock the door behind you, the dog has no way of reaching you.
In her frustration, she might bark and howl without fail. This reaction is persistent. And doesn’t seem to result from anything other than her inability to reach you.
These are also “exit frustration” signs. Again, because of your dog’s inability to reach you, she targets the exit channels within the house.
She’ll try to chew at/claw at doors, door frames, and window sills out of frustration. She’ll also try to chew at medium-sized objects lying around the house.
While causing damage, a dog that engages in this behavior may also injure herself.
A dog frustrated by her owner’s absence may just pace around. Usually, she does this in circular patterns.
Or she may walk to-and-fro in straight lines.
Some dogs, unable to deal with the frustration of being alone, will soil themselves.
Even if she’s housebroken, the dog may pee/poop indiscriminately around the house. And it’s just her way of coping with the stress of being unable to reach you.
In some cases, she may even eat her excrement.
Tips To Help Your Dog Cope With Separation Anxiety
Please note that simply because you come home to dog poop doesn’t mean your dog has separation anxiety. It may be because of a medical condition.
Also, your dog barking excessively may be because of something that caught her eye.
So, it may not always be easy to tell which symptoms are out of frustration and which ones aren’t.
Still, a more accurate way of telling is when your dog is exhibiting many of the signs above in more frequency. If you suspect it’s a case of separation anxiety, here are a few tips to help your dog cope.
Do Not Create Big Deals Out Of Your Arrivals And Departures
If your coming and going are loaded with a lot of fanfare, your dog is also going to make a big deal out of them.
For instance, if your leaving is supercharged with negative emotions, then it’s going to rub off on your dog. She’s going to always associate your going with negative feelings and get frustrated when she’s unable to reach you.
If your coming is also loaded with so much excitement, your dog is going to regard your arrivals as a biggie. And when it’s time to depart, she may end up having a hard time.
You just want to remain calm and indifferent whether you’re coming from work or leaving the house for an extended period.
Desensitize And Counter-condition Your Dog
Your dog has probably learned to associate your departure with stress. And cues that shoot up her anxiety level may be something as harmless as picking up your car keys.
You want to teach your dog to not associate negative feelings with these actions. So, you could pick your keys, wear your shoes, or do something that gets your dog worked up when she senses you’re departing.
Only in this case, you don’t leave the house. So, you pick your keys, give your dog a treat and get comfy on the sofa or move to the kitchen.
It may take some time to get your dog to understand that picking your car keys or wearing your shoes doesn’t always mean you’re leaving. But, trust that she’ll come around.
You can also teach your pup that separation isn’t always a bad thing. Teach your dog to stay at a particular place. Create some distance and come back after about 5 minutes and reward her with a special treat.
Continue to do this but lengthen the period you stay away while rewarding her for staying put till your arrival.
Get Your Dog Busy
Is your dog simply bored? She probably has so much pent-up energy, she may not know how well to exert this energy when she gets panicky because you’re gone.
Sometimes, it may just be a case of boredom.
Give your dog plenty of exercise every morning, say 30 minutes. Give her lots of toys to get busy with.
That way, she has something to do in your absence. Or she ends up too tired and simply will continue taking naps till you get back.
In cases of severe anxiety, you might want to resort to drugs to help your dog. Antidepressants like clomipramine, fluoxetine, and benzodiazepine are excellent options to explore to help your dog tolerate some level of separation. Always consult your vet to see how best to use these, nonetheless.
For you, the owner, your dog’s separation anxiety can become a big source of frustration. If you’re coming home to dog poop, scratched door or window surfaces, chewed objects, and other unpleasant scenarios, it can be concerning.
Indeed, many owners are forced to part ways with their dogs because of some of these worrying symptoms. Still, the problem isn’t completely unsolvable.
And with a little patience and commitment, you can follow the tips above to get your dog becoming a lot more comfortable with your absence.