Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments and More Making Those Solitary Moments Less Stressful for Everyone

Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments and More

Separation anxiety is a serious condition that affects dogs and their caretakers. S.A. in dogs makes it difficult to leave home without a lot of stress and tension. Dealing with the situation without understanding the symptoms and how to solve the problem is going to be tough. This article discusses S.A. in dogs and how to tackle it as a caretaker with the help of experts.

The love that dogs have for us is truly unconditional. We honestly don’t deserve dogs, but they are the gift that keeps giving. If given the chance, a lot of pet owners would never spend a moment away from their furry friends.


Sadly, life commitments make it so that we have to be separated from our dogs from time to time. May Hawkins is one such dog parent who adores her precious shih-tzu so much that she can’t leave him alone overnight. 


“I feel that sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, like there’s impending doom,” she states.


That’s not an uncommon feeling among dog parents who are deeply attached to their pets. However, it’s not just us humans who miss our dogs. Separation anxiety is a real thing that can be traumatic for dogs as well. 


They stress themselves out so much when they can’t be with us, and the anxiety they go through can be heartbreaking to see. Thankfully, there are ways to help your dog deal with this problem. It is, after all, a type of maladaptive behavior that can be addressed with the right tools and techniques. Keep reading to learn more.

What Is Separation Anxiety, and What Are the Symptoms?

Before we learn how to address the problem, we first need to ensure that we are all on the same page. According to WebMD, separation anxiety happens when your dog is “hyper-attached” and becomes “super-stressed” when left alone. 


This means that the symptoms aren’t exactly ignorable. A dog going through separation anxiety will howl and bark excessively, along with showing destructive behavior by tearing cushions and scratching at doors. 


They pace back and forth, hoping that you will return to them quickly. Some dogs will even have accidents and pee or poop during these episodes. 


The implications of separation anxiety are clear. You or other family members are effectively housebound for your dog. You may receive complaints and even eviction notices if your neighbors find your dog’s behavior to be extremely disturbing.


If the problem is left unchecked, it may even get worse and prevent you from even leaving the house to mow your lawn or do some gardening. To prevent your life and your dog’s life from becoming a chaotic mess, you need to take the appropriate steps. 

How Does Separation Anxiety Start? 

While the exact cause of separation anxiety is still unknown, animal behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnel, Ph.D., states that there are several possible causal factors. These include traumatic events that occurred when the owner wasn’t home, such as a robbery or a break-in. 


It could also be triggered if a traumatic separation incident occurred in the past (such as the dog being abandoned at a shelter). Such dogs may be worried that you are going to abandon them like they once were, and they try their best to keep you in sight. Each moment that they can’t see you only makes them more frantic. 


This is why you want to try and find the source of the problem instead of hoping that your dog will grow out of the behavior. Remember, knowledge of your dog’s past can help you spend time bonding with them


She also states that some dogs may simply have a clingy personality that predisposes them to separation anxiety. 

Treating the problem can be a complicated process because it involves unlearning an extremely strong behavior. Moreover, it requires the underlying issue to be addressed. Simply training the dog not to whine or bark won’t be the solution here. 


This is why animal behaviorists focus on helping your dog become more trusting of the fact that it won’t be abandoned. Let’s explore further.

How Can Separation Anxiety Be Addressed?

Dr. Terry Curtis, DVM, MS, DACVB, explains that habituation is one of the best ways to help your dog deal with separation anxiety. For example, if your dog starts to get anxious when you pick up your car keys, you want to focus on that. Deliberately pick up the keys and then just walk around the house. 


On another occasion, you can pick up the keys and then start preparing dinner. In this way, Curtis explains, your dog no longer reacts to the triggers of you leaving home. It stops the triggering of their separation anxiety symptoms. You can also avoid, replace, or mask other cues to prevent triggering their S.A. episode. 


Classically conditioning the dog is going to be one of the key methods to help your dog overcome the fear that you will abandon them. 


Of course, with classical conditioning, it’s important to remember that spontaneous recovery has a chance of happening. This can happen if the habituation or conditioning is incomplete. 


That said, there are times when the severity of the symptoms seems unnaturally high. Medications exist for these moments, and you will want to speak to your vet about them. 


At the moment, there is only one FDA-approved medication for separation anxiety treatment in dogs. This refers to Clomicalm, a tricyclic antidepressant that affects the dog’s serotonin system. 


That said, a lot of vets will also recommend medications like Fluoxetine or Amitriptyline to help calm your dog. 


One preventative strategy that can also help is to ensure your dog doesn’t have pent-up energy when you are about to leave the house. This might require a bit of advance planning, but try to take your dog for a nice walk before you have to leave. 


You could get something like the SENTRY calming collar, which releases pheromones that reduce destructive behavior. 


Take your dog for a relatively long walk and allow them to explore and sniff as many bushes as they like.


By the time you get back home, your pet should be looking forward to a nice, long nap. Ensure your dog has a comfy bed or mat ready, and set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature. 

Important ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ When You Have a Dog With Separation Anxiety

Your dog goes through a lot of emotions during separation anxiety, and they express it in the only way they know how to. Avoid getting angry with your dog or punishing it for its anxious behavior. This is only going to worsen the situation. 


Similarly, avoid making your departure a big deal. This means you stop lugging your suitcases into the living room, acting tense and anxious yourself, or hugging and kissing family members in a loud manner. Your dog instantly realizes what’s happening. 


On the flip side, do seek out unique remedies to help the situation. Sometimes, you may find that your dog still shows signs of anxiety. There are several products on the market these days that offer products that help dogs deal with separation anxiety to some degree.


Kong toys, for instance, are quite popular because they engage your dog as they try to get at the treat placed within. 


Likewise, if your dog tends to have accidents, do look at options like dog diapers that can help make the situation less ‘messy.’ People who have used dog diapers have found the benefits too good not to pass on. Heather Nelson claims that the diapers are fantastic for her fourteen-year-old Labrador mix, who can’t control his bladder sometimes. 


In conclusion, separation anxiety can be really hard for dogs and their caretakers. It creates a difficult situation that frustrates both parties. Take heart in knowing that the problem can be fixed if you put in the effort. 


It will take some time, but if you reach out to an animal behaviorist who specializes in separation anxiety treatment, you can definitely make progress. 

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