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Sandra November 27, 2020

How To Help Your Dog With Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is no fun for your dog or the owner. It's heartbreaking and stressful! Lambo has a little bit of separation anxiety and I'm going to share some tips we have used in our home to help him calm his anxiety. Some dogs have severe separation anxiety and this is something you should consult your vet about if none of these tips and tricks work! You could also consider a doggy training school or working 1-on-1 with a professional positive reinforcement dog trainer.

If you are home a lot or work from home then your dog is likely used to you being home with them every day. This is our case, so when we would leave the house Lambo would cry, bark and howl like he's a wolf on a full moon night. It was devastating for us but we knew we needed to help him deal with the anxiety since we can’t stay home forever and we can’t always bring him everywhere we go (even if we wish we could).

What is canine separation anxiety?

Canine separation anxiety refers specifically to when a dog has an intense bond with one person or preferred companions and cannot tolerate their absence. Dogs usually associate everything they value in their life with their companions and that includes company, play, food, going for walks, and attention. So, when the owner leaves everything they value goes with them and they basically, freak out. Separation anxiety symptoms vary and are different for each dog depending on the level of their anxiety. Lambo barks and howls when we leave but we have had a lot of success by using a few of the tips below to get him comfortable with being alone. The earlier you spot anxiety in your dog, the greater success you have in treating it.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include barking and howling when the owner is not home, excessive whining, pacing and panting (when it’s not hot), trembling or shaking, digging or scratching repetitively, destroying furniture, excessive licking or chewing, not eating, urinating in the house, restlessness, drooling, cowering, and even running away. It’s important to watch our for symptoms of anxiety and learn your dog’s body language. If your dog has separation anxiety, don’t fret, it is the most common form of anxiety! Luckily there are ways to deal with it.

10 Helpful tips for dogs with anxiety

1. Exercise your dog before leaving the house. Using exercise is both a bonding time and a good way to tire out your pooch. Exercise can help relieve stress by producing beneficial endorphins. Anxiety can cause an excess of energy and uses up a lot of energy, so taking your dog out to play with a ball/frisbee or on a long walk before you leave can be helpful. They might be too tired to be stressed out afterward!

2. Set up a pet cam. These are brilliant and easy, you set them using the wifi and get an app on your phone so that you can check in on them. There are also pet cams that allow you to reward your dog with a treat! This could be a good idea to reinforce positive behaviour when they are not showing signs of anxiety when they are alone at home.

3. Special toys. Whenever we leave we offer Lambo an interactive toy that will help to distract him and keep him busy. Some toys can even be filled with treats! This helps your dog understand that when you leave you always come back and they get something fun and special do with a bonus of treats! Sometimes Lambo gets so distracted with the toy he forgets to freak out and the moment passes and he usually naps or plays with his toy without freaking out! #PawrentWin

We are pairing the scary thing with something our doggy likes. Food or treat puzzles usually keep your dog occupied for longer periods. 

PS! You can try dog treats that contain helpful supplements proven to help anxiety as well. Typically they will contain melatonin, thiamin, chamomile, L-Theanine, or L-tryptophan. The ones that have ginger are often recommended for travel anxiety to ease any tummy upsets.

4. You can also try a calming supplement like Bach's rescue remedy for pets, it's safe for dogs, cats, and even other pets (not an Ad). You just add 2-4 drops directly to their drinking water. We do recommend checking with your vet or the company directly to make sure you choose the accurate dose based on your dogs size and if it is the best option for your dog since there are loads of calming supplements to choose from! You can do your research to help you find the best one for your dog.

5. You can try music therapy - leave a speaker on with calming music. Lambo likes nature music like a babbling brook, the ocean, or birds in a forest. He also seems to be calmer and goes to sleep with soft classical music. I usually find a 2-3 hours track on YouTube and works for us but research shows that harp music is very calming for dogs.

6. Train your dog to be okay on their own by leaving for short periods. Leave for 1-5 minutes then come back. Once they get comfortable with 5 minutes increase the time to 6-10 minutes and come back. Keep doing this and gradually increase the amount of time you leave for as long as they feel comfortable. - This will help your dog to understand that you will always be back and you are not leaving them. You can gradually increase the time you leave your dog on its own, but only if it's coping at the previous level. 

7. Try the Adaptil Home Diffuser - Adaptil is an aromatherapy for dogs! It uses pheromones to help them release any fears they have. It’s also easy to use! All you need to do is plug the diffuser into the room your dog spends the most time in. The diffuser releases “dog-appeasing” pheromones, an odorless scent particular to dogs. (Humans and other pets will not smell anything this is dog-specific). BUT if you already have a diffuser you could try diffusing a lavender essential oil for its calming aroma. 

8. When you get home give your dog a good cuddling and petting session so they can feel loved and at ease knowing that when you come home they get to have contact with you again. There is probably nothing more soothing to an anxious dog than its owner’s touch.

9. You might want to try a calming coat or calming shirt - these apply mild, constant pressure to a dog’s torso. It’s recommended for dogs with any type of anxiety induced by travel, separation, noise, or stranger anxiety. This pressure from the calming coat/shirt can make them feel like they are embraced in a big hug.

10. If you need to run out for longer periods try a doggy daycare if it’s accessible to you. Alternatively, you can ask someone to dog sit for you like a family member you trust. 

It's important to treat anxiety in your dog to avoid it reaching dangerous levels. These ideas are a great start to help you manage the situation with an anxious dog. A pet cam can allow you to see them but also talk to them if needed… although this can be confusing so I wouldn’t recommend using this feature. An interactive toy will help to keep their mind off you being gone and keep them busy with something rewarding. A rewarding toy and treat will help them associate you leaving as not a bad thing but another positive - “I get my favorite toy and treats, yay!”. Behavioral training will also be beneficial because it will help to change your dog's negative association with being alone to a positive one by giving them something they love. Use cues to help both of you to understand what behaviour is desired. Different therapies can be used alone or combined to be more effective. Be sure to do proper research before implementing alternative therapies, and consult with your veterinarian, too. Pet anxiety is not easy and every dog is different. Remember to be patient with it because it does take time and consistency!