Does Dog Training Help with Separation Anxiety?
By Jason Wright
March 22, 2023
As a dog owner, you want your pet to be happy, healthy and at ease in their environment when you are and are not physically around them. This is why many dog owners feel at a loss when their pet experiences separation anxiety. Not only is it troubling for the family and the pet, but it can also be a nuisance when trying to leave your dog for a set amount of time.
Separation anxiety is quite common in dogs. Especially nowadays, as over the past few years, many dog owners spent more time at home with their pets or even brought home and raised puppies during the stay-at-home COVID period. Though it can be tough to see your dog upset when you go to leave them, separation anxiety can lead to poor behavioural habits, such as destructive behaviour, excessive barking and even self-harm.
If your pet has separation anxiety, dog training can help, as some tactics and techniques can help them adjust to being alone. By working with your pet daily, and with great persistence and patience, you can help them establish healthy behaviours, allowing your dog to feel happy and comfortable whether you are with them or not.
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Dogs are social animals, and they thrive on human companionship. When their owners leave them alone, they can sometimes become anxious and distressed. As we mentioned, separation anxiety is a common issue affecting many pets. If not addressed or your dog does not get the proper training to help them with their anxiety, it can have a range of negative effects on their behaviour and mental health.
To effectively address separation anxiety, it's important to understand how it can be caused. Below are a few of the reasons why a dog may be experiencing anxiety:
- Past Trauma or Changes in Environment: If your pet has experienced trauma or drastic changes in its environment, such as losing a family member or another pet, your dog may begin to show signs of separation anxiety. Your pet can also develop this if they experience a new environment that they are not used to, such as moving to a new home.
- Lack of Socialization or Training: A lack of training or socialization can contribute to separation anxiety. Dogs who have not been properly trained or socialized may not know how to behave when left alone, causing anxiety and stress.
- Genetics: Some dogs may be more prone to anxiety due to their genetic makeup, making it more difficult to address the issue.
- Not Used to Being Alone: Separation anxiety is not always the result of neglect or mistreatment. If your pet is used to being around people, then your dog may feel distressed when left alone.
Common Signs of Separation Anxiety
It is normal for your dog to show signs of stress or anxiety occasionally. This is why it is important to understand the difference between normal stress and when your dog is experiencing separation anxiety.
Usually, separation anxiety is present if your dog continues to showcase two or more of the below-listed behaviours often, especially when left alone.
- Excessive barking or howling
- Destructive behaviour, such as chewing furniture, digging or scratching at doors or windows or chewing on their crate
- Urinating or defecating in the house, even if the dog is house-trained
- Trying to escape or break out of their crate
- Panting or drooling excessively
- Refusing to eat or drink
- Following their owner around the house constantly
- Showing signs of anxiety or agitation, such as pacing, trembling or whining
- Displaying excessive excitement or joy upon their owner's return
- Acting overly dependent on their owner's presence
Again, not all of these symptoms are direct signs of separation anxiety. If you suspect that your pet is experiencing this problem, it's best to consult a trained professional before you begin to work with and train them to overcome this issue.
What Can Happen if the Separation Anxiety Persists
No matter the cause of your dog's separation anxiety, it is important that you address it and work with your pet to prevent their behaviour from escalating right away. This will not only help them achieve independence, calmness during your absence, and a healthy and happy environment, but it will also prevent poor behaviours and health problems.
Some of the issues that can arise from not working with your pet on their anxiety include:
- Physical health problems: As we mentioned, dogs with separation anxiety may develop bad habits and behaviours, such as chewing on inappropriate objects or consistently scratching at doors or crates. If these behaviours continue, they can lead to dental issues, intestinal blockages, injured paws, or other health problems.
- Behavioural issues: Your pet may also become fearful or aggressive towards other people or animals. They may also develop other anxiety-related behaviours, such as phobias or obsessive-compulsive behaviours.
- Property damage: To combat anxiety, your pet may begin chewing on furniture or scratching at its crate or doors. This can cause significant damage to household items or property.
- Aggressive Behaviour: There is a possibility that an anxious dog can become aggressive to other pets or people, which can lead to some serious situations, such as causing damage or injury to other people or animals.
- Emotional distress: Dogs with separation anxiety may experience significant emotional distress. This can lead to further behavioural problems, mental health issues, and reduced quality of life.
How to Work with your Dog on Their Separation Anxiety
Training your pet to feel comfortable and safe alone can be a lengthy process, but if done correctly, it will help your pet achieve a happier life. It will also prevent any physical or emotional behavioural issues from arising, causing serious problems for your pet.
To ensure you are working with your dog effectively on their anxiety, it is important that you do so regularly with some of the training tips and tactics that have been listed below. If you have any questions or concerns about working with your dog on their separation anxiety, it's important that you consult a trainer or an experienced individual before you begin. This will help to prevent any mishaps from occurring.
Practice Gradual Departures: An effective technique to help your dog feel comfortable alone is to practice gradual departures. This means leaving your dog alone for short periods and gradually increasing the time as they become more comfortable. Start by leaving your dog alone for just a few minutes and gradually increasing the time as you go. It's important that you do not reward or praise your dog when you get home. This is also important when you leave the home. Do not make it a big deal. If so, your dog will become more anxious about your return as they will anticipate excitement and treats.
Provide Plenty of Exercise and Mental Stimulation: Dogs require exercise and mental stimulation to keep them healthy and happy. When you're with your pet, ensure they have plenty of opportunities for play, exercise, and mental stimulation. Certain toys and interactive games can help to keep your dog mentally stimulated and engaged, and a walk or off-leash time if your dog has been professionally trained to do so, can help your dog burn off some energy and stress.
Establish a Consistent Routine: Dogs thrive on routine and structure, so it's important to establish a consistent daily routine. This includes feeding, exercise, and playtime. Try to keep your departures and arrivals consistent as well, if possible, as it will teach your pet to understand that you will be coming back to see them.
Practice Desensitization: Desensitization involves gradually exposing your dog to the stimuli that trigger their anxiety in a controlled environment. For example, if your dog becomes anxious when you pick up your keys or put on your coat, practice doing these things without leaving the house. This will help your dog to become desensitized to these triggers and reduce their anxiety.
The iTK9 Way
Working with your pet continuously can help them feel safe and comfortable being alone, allowing them to work through their separation anxiety. However, it is important that you stay consistent and have patience when training your dog, as separation anxiety, especially in extreme cases, is a serious issue.
If you need assistance with your dog and its anxiety training, our trainers can help. They are fully committed to working with them through behaviour, obedience training, and continued learning safely and effectively.