what are the causes of separation anxiety in dogs?

How to Break a Dog’s Separation Anxiety Quickly

Separation anxiety is something that takes a lot of first-time dog owners by surprise. It will often lead to whining as your dog feels afraid. As sociable creatures by nature, dogs do not enjoy being left alone at any point – but with the appropriate training, they can be taught that it’s perfectly fine and nothing to worry about. After all, we always come home sooner rather than later.

Let’s delve a little deeper into the world of canine separation anxiety, and what can be done to prevent this condition from ruining your experience as a dog owner – and your dog’s own experience as a pampered pet.

What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

As the name suggests, it stems from fear, worry, and distress about being removed from the company of their owner. It’s particularly prevalent in puppies and younger dogs, but it can also manifest in older canines that have been adopted or rescued.

In short, it is a fear from your dog that you are going to leave them and not come back. It’s essential that you build a mutual trust with your canine companion. This will ensure that they understand that, if you’re leaving them at home, it’s for a good reason and you will be returning – ideally with treats.

A dog that suffers from this condition will be distressed, destructive and potentially dangerous to himself or herself if left home alone for any period of time. It’s a condition that needs to be managed and dealt with as quickly as possible, for both your sake and that of your dog.

What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

  • As we have already explained, dogs are social, pack animals. Dogs actively crave the company of others, and they are not hardwired to seek some time out alone like human beings. Being left by himself or herself is a strange sensation at best for a dog, and may feel like a punishment or abandonment at worst. Consider the fact that a dog never leaves the side of their mum – who provides food and warmth – and littermates – who offer play and entertainment – for the first eight weeks of their life and you may also have some further insight into why dogs have no love for their own company.
  • Dogs have no concept of time and live almost exclusively in the moment. There is little point in buying Fido a Rolex for Christmas this year – he won’t be able to grasp the complexities of time. Sure, many dogs have their own internal body clocks and learn routine times for when they need to eliminate or eat, but minutes can feel like hours for dogs. This is why they are so happy to see you if you’ve only left them alone for a few moments to head to the convenience store two blocks over.
  • Dogs cannot look after themselves. Your pooch may be descended from wild wolves, but let’s be blunt – watching your dog snoozing on the sofa, you can probably admit that they’re not cut out for life in the wild. Just some of the panicked thoughts that will race through your dog’s mind while you’re out will be, “who is going to feed me?”, “who is going to fill the water bowl?” and “my toy is all the way under the sofa – how am I supposed to reach it?”
  • Dogs love routine. They are comforted by it and like things to be the same at all times – especially within what they consider to be their territory. Moving house can be traumatic for a dog and lead to separation anxiety, and even something as simple as reorganizing the furniture in your living room may leave Fido discombobulated and asking, “hey, why are you moving all my stuff?”
  • Different people coming and going from the house can leave a dog a little confused, especially if you have lodgers or houseguests that are here today and gone tomorrow. If a dog forms a bond with somebody, it can be a real wrench when they’re no longer around – escalating any existing issues with separation anxiety.
  • Bereavement can hit dogs very hard, and they can’t seek counseling. If a dog has lost somebody very close to them – such as a former owner, leading to the need to be rehoused – it can leave them very shaken and prone to separation anxiety. The same applies if a dog has a close canine friend, parent or sibling that passes away. A dog will pine for this person or pooch, and not quite understand why they are not around any longer. This can be heartbreaking for your hound.

These are just some of the reasons that dogs encounter separation anxiety – there could be many more that are unique to particular breeds or individual canines. You should also ensure that your dog is not living with a generalized anxiety disorder, which is just as prevalent in canines as it is in humans.

Do Puppies Grow Out of Separation Anxiety?

Do children grow out of being afraid of the dark? The answer to both of those questions is usually yes, but it’s not simply a matter of maturing and realizing one day that there’s nothing to worry about. It takes time and reassurance to convince a dog that being alone isn’t scary – or forever. Failing to nurture your dog and deal with their separation anxiety could lead to the problem growing worse and worse.

Separation anxiety is a behavioral condition; something hardwired into dogs. After all, they are predisposed to be pets and to rely on their humans to keep them safe from anything that might do them harm, just like a young child. They need to be taught and learn to trust, that being left alone for a short period of time does not mean that something terrible is going to befall them and that it does not mean that they’ll never see their beloved human again.

My Dog is Traumatized After Boarding

This is somewhat common. Separation anxiety is caused by a fear that a dog’s owner will leave them and not return, and as far as a dog is concerned, being left in kennels is akin to abandonment. Throw in the fact that living in such proximity to other dogs may cause them to become unwell, and you have a recipe for discomfort.

dog separation anxiety training solutions

If you must go away for any prolonged period of time, consider asking a trusted friend or family member to take care of your dog – that means bringing your hound into their home, not leaving them locked up alone all day aside from an hour of visiting and changing water bowls.

In reality, though, you should not consider leaving your pet for any prolonged period of time. Being a doggy parent means that your furry friend tends to come with you wherever you go as part of a package deal.

Should I Get a Second Dog to Prevent Separation Anxiety?

No. This may be tempting, as you think that your second dog will keep the first company. What’s more likely to happen is that they’ll wind each other up, and you’ll end up with two fretful hounds on your hands.

You could try introducing a cat to the family if these theoretically warring species can get along, as this might at least prevent your dog from growing bored and weary while you’re out. It’s better to engage in a full training program, though. It may take more work, but both the dog and the owner will benefit from the effort in the longer term.

Dog Separation Anxiety Symptoms

If you’re worried that your dog is exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, familiarize yourself with the symptoms and take action where necessary.

These telltale signs include:

  • Barking and howling
  • Eliminating in the house
  • Destructive behavior, such as chewing on furniture and carpets
  • Attempting to escape the house or their crate
  • OCD-style behaviors, such as pacing in circles

Some of these problems are naturally more severe than others, however. Escape attempts can be dangerous, as your dog may harm their paws or teeth attempting to dog, claw or bite their way out of their location. For this reason, it is best not to leave your dog restrained by a crate or carrier while you’re away if they suffer from separation anxiety.

My Dog is Barking Due to Separation Anxiety

The most common sign of separation anxiety in dogs is loud, unashamed barking and howling. You’ll probably find that this starts before you even leave the house – dogs are pretty smart, and they know when something is up.

If your dog caps their behavior at barking, it’s upsetting (and annoying for your neighbors) but it’s arguably the least problematic of symptoms. You can check out our guide to preventing dogs from barking, Make sure that your dog’s barking doesn’t turn into anything more severe.

My Dog is Peeing Due to Separation Anxiety

When a dog has an accident indoors, it may not be an accident at all. Dogs frequently pee (or poop!) indoors if they are trying to send a message to their human.

This is not an act of ‘revenge’ – rather, something that feels appropriate to your dog, After all, separation anxiety must be terrifying for Fido, causing all kinds of sensations within a doggy body. This will leave your dog feeling unwell, and if they’re under the weather, a dog will want their human to know about it so they can help.

new adopted dog anxious when not with me

Alternatively, however, this elimination may be entirely involuntary – especially in the case of puppies, who have not yet mastered the link between brain and bladder. Your dog may also be peeing due to fear because they are worried that they are being left alone as a punishment.

One thing to keep an eye on is coprophagia, which is a dog eating his or her own poop. In some cases, an anxious dog may have an accident and then panic, deciding that eating the evidence is the easiest way of hiding it. Not only will this lead to some serious your dog having bad breath, but also it’s very unsanitary!

My Dog is Vomiting Due to Separation Anxiety

Some dogs may get themselves so upset and wound up by their separation anxiety that they literally howl themselves sick. Vomiting is relatively common in dogs after they overeat and is nothing to worry about in that instance, but in the case of separation anxiety, it should be taken seriously.

Not only is there a risk that your dog will eat their own vomit, making themselves sick all over again, but your dog will also be at risk of risk of dehydration. Of course, this also ignores the fact that your dog has grown so upset that they have vomited – that can’t be considered a good thing by any standards.

Dog Separation Anxiety at Night

Even the calmest and sensible dog can become a nervous wreck if expected to sleep alone at night. Again, this depends entirely on your particular dog, and their personal experiences.

  • If you have taken a puppy home, it’s a lot to take in for them – not only are they in a new home, but they’re used to sleeping in a pile with their siblings, possibly snuggled up to their mum for extra warmth. Suddenly they’re supposed to sleep entirely alone when they’re at their most vulnerable?
  • If you have adopted a dog from a shelter, they may have spent every night sleeping beside or at the feet of their previous owner. If you have a strict ‘no dogs’ policy in your own bed or bedroom, they may find it very distressing to have to sleep alone.
  • Likewise, your dog may also have been stray at some time in their life if you have adopted them from a shelter. This would mean they would have formed a pack for safety, and been forced to stay very alert throughout the night. Forcing your dog to sleep alone may contradict every instinct and learned behavior they know of.

It can be tricky to conquer separation anxiety at night with a new dog, especially if they are not yet housetrained, but it’s very important. Having said this, bedtime routines may be the one occasion that you can cave into a dog’s demands for your company. It may be better for all concerned that way.

How to Cure Separation Anxiety in Dogs

First thing’s first – you never really cure separation anxiety in dogs. Everything that we discussed in the previous section, What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs? will remain relevant throughout a canine lifespan, and your dog will never love being left alone.

Training is always the most impactful way of helping your dog overcome their fears of being left alone, and that is largely achieved by rewarding your dog every time you come home (thus sending the message that being left alone is not all bad!), and ensuring that your dog has enough entertainment to keep them occupied while you’re away.

Dog worried when left alone

Overall, however, the most important thing is to build a bond of trust with your canine companion. The only way a dog will ever break their separation anxiety is by eventually beginning to believe you when you say that you’ll be back soon!

That works too, by the way – dogs understand more than we give them credit for, so it never hurts to tell your dog where you’re going, why, and when you’ll be back. Don’t feel silly about doing this – it’s been suggested that people who speak to their pets are more intelligent.

Training for Curing Dog Separation Anxiety Quickly

Training is essential for putting a stop to dog separation anxiety. The sooner you do so, the sooner your dog will become more comfortable being left alone. If you’re looking for a fast response from Fido, take some time off work and concentrate on the task at hand.

Here is some advice on building trust and putting a stop to dog separation anxiety.

  • Don’t make a fuss when you leave. It’s tempting to smother your dog with cuddles and kisses when you leave the house, apologizing profusely and promising that you’ll be back soon. This is doing more harm than good – you may be alleviating your own guilt, but you’re sending a message to your pooch that they should be worried. Calmly say, “back in a minute pooch, look after the house for me” and leave – and for the love of all that is holy, don’t look back. Those puppy dog eyes will leave you feeling terrible!
  • Start small and steadily build up your time away. When your first start leaving the house, your dog will be completely freaked out. Don’t run before you can walk and try to leave your dog alone for hours – start out by standing outside the door for a few seconds at a time. Once you have mastered this, you should gradually increase that time away. Try walking the block a couple of times, making the trip a little longer each time. This is building the trust of your dog, and teaching them that just because you’re leaving for a few moments, it doesn’t mean that you’re never coming back.
  • Get into a routine. If you have to leave the house every day to run errands that are not dog-friendly – shopping perhaps, or going to the bank or post office – try to do so at the same time each day wherever possible. Your dog will soon start to shrug off your temporary absence as part of their daily routine.
  • Leave distractions. Be careful about leaving too many toys or snacks lying around the house when you’re not around to supervise your dog, as you won’t be around to help if they start to choke. Consider investing in some kind of mentally stimulating game for them though, or hiding small, safe and strongly scented treats around the house. This may encourage Fido to hunt them down, which will keep him entertained.
  • Reward when you return. This is arguably the most crucial part of all. You need to teach your dog that you leaving the house isn’t always terrifying. This means coming home with something delicious and offering it straight to your dog. Maybe have a good play with your dog and give them plenty of attention as soon as you get home, too. This will make them feel as though all the worry and anxiety was worth it – and, given time, they may eventually start looking forward to your trips out!

Medication for Curing Dog Separation Anxiety Quickly

As separation anxiety is a psychological issue rather than a medical concern, there is not a specialist prescription medication that will cure it overnight. What may be worth investigating, however, is medication to help with general anxious behavior in a particularly skittish dog.

Speak to your vet before making a decision on this front, as every dog will have different needs based on their breed, temperament, size, weight, and symptoms. Medication should only really be a last resort; before taking this path, also trying picking up an anxiety vest (sometimes referred to as a thundershirt) from a pet store.

Home Remedies for Curing Dog Separation Anxiety Quickly

An anxious dog can usually be calmed by pheromones, which are often available in the form of a diffuser from any reputable pet store.  Alternatively, you could pop a couple of drops of Rescue Remedy into Fido’s water bowl, or make your own herbal remedy for spraying around the house.

Dog has bad past experiences

Popular herbs and oils for calming dogs are:

  • Chamomile
  • Skullcap
  • Valerian
  • Hemp
  • Lemon Balm
  • John’s Wort

Alternatively, it’s believed that certain music is calming for dogs. It’s possible to source CDs and digital downloads that provide a soothing aural sensation, or some experts claim that calm, non-bombastic classical music does the trick. Try leaving some vintage tunes playing next time you pop out and see if your dog is nodding along and tapping their paw when you get home.