Understanding separation anxiety in dogs

If you've been searching high and low to find out how to help a dog with separation anxiety, then you’ve come to the right place. Pet parents often lead a different life to their dogs and we’re not quite at the point where we can take them everywhere we go (one day, hey!). While it’s not ideal leaving your dog alone, there are ways to ease the pain and any anxiety your pet may experience when you go out. 

In this blog, we're talking about a discomfort and unease that dogs feel when their owners leave. However, if your dog is experiencing a severe amount of stress, it's important that you contact a qualified animal behaviourist.  

The pandemic has created a new wave of separation anxiety issues for pets and owners. This has made being alone more difficult for dogs who have become used to their owners – who have eventually gone back to work – being around most of the day. Below you can find out a bit more about what separation anxiety is, how to spot it in dogs, and some helpful hacks from Dr Roger Mugford on how to beat the blues.   

What is separation anxiety?  

Separation anxiety, in this context, refers to a sense of distress that dogs feel when separated from their owner. This worry that dogs feel when being left alone is very common, however, the degree of the anxiety and its effects can vary from one canine to the next.  

“It’s not normal for a dog to be alone,” says Dr. Mugford, “the whole design of their brain and behavior has been about socialising and communal living.”   

Due to their innate need to be around others, it makes sense that dogs do feel lonely and unhappy when not accompanied by an owner or other dogs.  

Separation anxiety has been widely explored in humans and other animals. It’s something that can be hard to avoid for you and your canine companion, but by understanding the signs and how to cope with it, you can give your beloved furry friend a better quality of life.   

Signs of separation anxiety in dogs  

It’s hard to tell what mood your pup is in when you’re not there to see it. However, there are some tell-tail signs that your dog is particularly worried about you leaving that they might display even before you’ve left.  

Overactivity 

If your dog has figured that you’re headed out, they might start jumping around and being hyperactive. This could manifest in various ways, like knocking things off tables, jumping up on you, or pacing around the house.  

Underactivity 

Alternatively, a dog with a degree of separation anxiety may behave in the opposite to the above if they’re worried about you leaving, explains Dr. Mugford. Instead of getting giddy, they might become subdued. Your dog may begin to feel and act depressed.  

Hyperventilation  

Panting is also a sign that your dog may have separation issues. If you notice your dog’s breathing becomes more rapid before you’re about to leave, you may want to talk to an animal behaviouralist or a vet to find ways to help calm them.    

Clinginess 

When a dog feels worried about its owner’s leaving, they can become very clingy, following you around closely as you finish your pre-departure ritual. This is a sign that they really don’t want you to go!  

Mess in the house  

Have you ever come home to your house in a state? If your dog likes to tear the house apart when you’re gone, this behavior could be due to separation stress. While this is equally frustrating for you, “always be warm and affectionate!” says Dr. Mugford, “If there is an item of furniture that has been destroyed, don’t punish them - never punish them.” 

How to help a dog with separation anxiety  

Nobody wants a mopey mutt, least of all if we're the reason for their boredom blues! “Of course your dog misses you!” says Dr. Mugford, and why wouldn’t they? Our connection with our canines is strong, but sometimes, unfortunately, duty calls.  

Finding it hard to leave your dog alone after covid lockdowns loved up together? Dr. Mugford has some top tips to share to help alleviate your dog’s worry when you can’t be with them.  

Keep it unpredictable 

Your manner of leaving can be important when leaving dogs home alone. “There are key elements of your routine. These signals tell your dog you’ll be out for a while which can trigger them in being upset,” explains Dr. Mugford. “Try and be unpredictable, leave at different times, park your car elsewhere. Keep your dog guessing how long you’ll be gone.”  

This lets you slip out of the house without escalating your dog’s anticipation-of-your-absence anxiety. The uncertainty of how long you’ll be gone may allow them to remain hopeful it won’t be too long.  

Stay cool 

Should you leave being affectionate, or abrupt?  

“If you over-fuss before you go out, you increase the dependency your dog has on you. Leave on a cool and normal note.” says Roger, he also tells us that there’s evidence that fussing before you leave is no good! So, as much as you might want to give your pooch a squeeze, you should leave that for when you get home, not before you leave.  

Create distractions 

“Create distraction processes and preliminary walks, associating something nice with your going out.” It could be a brief game (did someone say PupPod?!) Giving them games and their favourite toys whilst you’re out will help with their sense of discontentment. Leaving the radio and TV on also works as giving them the usual background noise of the house can be very comforting.  

Read more about using PupPod for separation anxiety, here.  

Let them run free 

If your back yard has the right structures in place, then giving a dog free rein to run and play outside is great for their mental health when leaving dogs home alone while at work or elsewhere. If this isn’t an option, give them access to as much of the house as possible. “Most dogs are best if they have access to the whole house, and not shut off in a room or a cage, give them complete freedom!” says Dr.Mugford.  

Monitor 

Setting up a way to monitor your pup whilst it’s home alone will help you to understand its behavior and set up a strategy that works for you both. “Forty percent of dogs do not settle for some time after owners have left. They only settle in the latter part of the day, when they’re expecting you.” 

This is one of the advantages of PupPod. As a stimulating game to occupy dogs at home, but one that also has an integrated camera, owners can view and interact with their pets from anywhere via their smartphone.  

Leave them the good treats  

Grab a bag of extra tasty treats for them to snack on whilst you’re away. You can leave your quality kibble out in a bowl or load a PupPod with it. This can be their reward for when you’ve left them home alone. If your canine has to go the day without you, they may as well get some delicious doggy treats out of it, right?  

Put out your clothes... 

“Certainly leave items of clothing around, so the dog can lie on them.” advises Roger. Whatever you can leave out for them that you don’t mind them lying on – pants, jeans, coats, old tops – dogs love to snuggle up on your clothing. 

Dr. Mugford also recommends talking to your neighbor if you want solutions for your dog’s separation sadness. There’s an estimated 34 million people in single-person households in the U.S (2019), which means in-house canine care isn’t always an option. Even just getting a neighbor to check in on them once a day can help your pup feel less lonely. Family and friends can also be a good option, too – as long as you trust these people, everyone loves an excuse to be around a dog!  

Attachment is a normal process in dogs 

If your dog struggles with separation anxiety, it’s distressing for you both. As Dr.Mugford says If two lovers are separated, they experience a sense of loss,” - our dogs are our one true love!  

Above is some useful advice on how to deal with separation anxiety in dogs from dog behavioral and psychology expert Dr. Mugford. By implementing some of these tips, you can help to reduce (maybe not entirely get rid of) the worry that your dog feels when left alone.  

PupPod offers a variety of benefits that work to soothe your canine. Being mentally stimulated and having treats to enjoy while you’re gone can kick the doggy despair, what’s more, our built-in camera lets you feel connected to your dog and will support the pet-parent pity throughout the day!  

Pre-order a PupPod here 

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