If your dog destroys your house when you’re away, but is well behaved when you’re at home, they may have separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a lose-lose situation.
When you leave, your dog is left feeling anxious and depressed, and when you get home, you’ll find your furniture destroyed and rugs soiled.
Thus, if your dog has separation anxiety, taking the steps to reduce it is a wise investment.
It will make your dog happier and strengthen their relationship with you, and it will remove the necessity of having a monthly new-couch-cushion budget.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
According to the ASPCA, dogs can dread being separated either from a familiar person, such as a longtime companion, or from just about any person if the dog is going through a period of psychological distress.
With this in mind, here are the most common causes of separation anxiety:
- Change of Guardian or Family – this mainly affects newly adopted dogs, dogs who are living with another person temporarily, or a shelter dog who was recently surrendered or abandoned
- Change in Schedule – separation anxiety can be seen in dogs faced with periods of separation that deviate from what they’re used to, either in duration or timing(e.g. their human started a new job or now works the night shift)
- Change in Residence – moving to a new home can induce separation anxiety in a dog
- Change in Household Membership – dogs may develop separation anxiety if a resident family member abruptly becomes absent(in the case of death or moving away)
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Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Common symptoms of separation anxiety, according to the ASPCA, are as follows:
- Urinating and Defecting
- Barking and Howling
- Chewing, Digging, or Destruction
- Coprophagia(consuming waste)
It’s important to note that these symptoms do not absolutely denote separation anxiety; some can be caused by a lack of house training, boredom, scent marking(common in male dogs), and personality traits innate to a dog, such as being very excitable or submissive in their behavior.
In order to understand what indicates separation anxiety and what doesn’t, look for behaviors that are out of the ordinary for your dog, or that they do not exhibit when they’re around you.
How to Reduce Separation Anxiety
There are many solutions to separation anxiety, but we’re covering three areas of focus that have been shown by veterinarians and dog people alike to do the job effectively.
The goal of departure training is to desensitize your dog to your absence; they need to be at ease when you’re preparing to leave and once you’ve already left.
Departure training has two steps:
- Predeparture Cues
In this step, you goal is to reduce the anxiety your dog feels when they know you’re about to leave. This anxiety is triggered by a certain cue,
Maybe when you grab your keys from the counter and put on your shoes, your dog knows you’re leaving. If your routine is to fill your thermos with water before leaving the house, your dog will associate this action with you being gone.
Once you know what triggers your dog’s anxiety, practice giving the cue but not leaving the house.
Fill your thermos, then go sit on your couch and watch TV. Grab your keys, then read the newspaper for a little while.
Although it will take several weeks of frequent exposure to these false cues, your dog will soon learn that certain actions they associate with you leaving do not always indicate that you will depart.
The pain that separation anxiety imparts on your dog is as much from the anticipation that you’re going to leave as it is from when you’re actually gone. Therefore, desensitizing your dog from departure cues is a solid first step to reducing their separation anxiety.
- Graduated Absences
Now, it’s time to get your dog acclimated to you being away. This process can take a while, depending on how sensitive your dog is to being alone.
First, you need to determine how long your dog can handle your absence without feeling distressed or misbehaving. Now, become absent for that amount of time repeatedly, each time slowly increasing the amount of time you’re gone.
Over time, your dog will become accustomed to exhibiting good behavior in your absence, and they won’t feel your absence as severely as they did before.
Departure training will not completely blunt the dejected feelings your dog experiences while you’re gone. But it will take away the worst of the negative feelings and the behavior your dog undertakes when you leave.
Positive Interaction With Your Pet
Apart from accustoming your dog to being away from you, maintaining their emotional health when you are with them goes a long way toward improving their emotional state when you’re gone.
Here are some great ways to bond with your dog:
- Exercise with your dog – not only do dogs love to exercise with their humans, but doing so also allows them to spend excess energy before you have to leave that might otherwise be spent worrying or destroying your home
- Play games with your dog – fetch and tug of war are two great ideas
- Take your dog to a dog park – let them roam around in the great outdoors and play with their dog buddies (if they like other dogs)
- Take them for walks – dogs love to explore new places and sniff new scents, especially when in the presence of their beloved human
- Cuddle with them – nobody likes the no-dogs-on-the-couch rule anyway. Watch a movie or take a nap with your dog
If you pay attention to your dog when you are around, they won’t feel as deprived when you leave them alone. Instead, they will know that you’ll be back soon to spend more time with them!
Manuel Meza via Unsplash
If your dog is trained to withstand being alone, and if they are receiving plenty of attention when they are in your presence, their separation anxiety should be greatly minimized.
However, natural wellness solutions such as CBD can help them if
- Their separation anxiety is minor, and does not warrant extensive training
- Their separation anxiety is severe, and persists in a significant manner even after other steps have been taken
CBD works on dogs much the same as it does on humans; it can calm your dog and promote their mental well-being. It can also take the edge off of negative emotions such as loneliness and desperation.
Experiment with dosages to find out what works best for your dog. Generally speaking, smaller dogs won’t need as much CBD to feel the same calming effects as large dogs will. Be sure to consult your veterinarian before using any CBD products, or other medicinal products with your dog.
Give your dog a dosage before you leave and watch them go from stressed and anxious to chilled out and at ease.
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Things to Avoid
There are a few things to avoid when trying to reduce your dog’s separation anxiety:
- Medicating without consulting a veterinary professional – while many medicines and natural wellness options can greatly benefit your dog, they can also cause harm; be sure to talk to your veterinarian before giving your dog medicines, CBD, and the like
- Scolding or punishing – this won’t make your dog learn how to be less stressed when you’re gone. Instead, it will make them feel even worse. A dog with separation anxiety sees you as their shelter and refuge. Reward them when they get things right, but don’t punish them when they do something wrong
- Trying to acclimate them too quickly – among all animals, dogs are some of the most mentally astute. They remember the past well, and will associate certain cues(you grabbing your keys) with certain situations(them being left alone) until their assumptions are repeatedly disproved. Thus, be patient and don’t rush them through the necessary acclimation processes. As with humans, habits in dogs take very long to form, but once formed will stay in place for a long time
The answer to your dog’s separation anxiety will likely be a combination of the three solutions discussed in this article; some training, some additional activity, and some CBD.
But it is also sometimes the case that by implementing just one of these, your dog’s separation anxiety becomes largely nonexistent.
If you experiment with various solutions(carefully!), soon you and your dog will have what you’re both after: a clean house and a good relationship.
Want to talk with a CBD expert about your pet’s situation? Give us a call!