Separation anxiety. I have never heard these words as much as I have over the last year. I'm sure you've heard of the "pandemic puppy" craze, referring to all of the dogs who were adopted during the pandemic because everyone found themselves with extra time and staying home.
Our dogs do not understand that we have been home for a year-and-a-half straight only because of a global pandemic and, now, it's time for us to get back to work or travel or just go to the local pub with friends. So, while we are trying to remember how to be social creatures who interact with others, our dogs are trying to figure out how they can cope with being separated from their parents for, basically, the first time in a year and a half!
How can I tell if my dog has separation anxiety?
Dogs usually have separation anxiety for one of three reasons: being weaned from their mother too early, changes in their regular routines, and simply spending too much time with their humans. Yes, there is such a thing as spending TOO MUCH time with their humans. This can lead your dog to be stressed and upset whenever you leave him.
Not all dogs show separation anxiety in the same way. I recommend that all of my clients get cameras to watch their pets when they are not home. This is the only real way to observe your pets when they are alone, and videos can show you a lot about what your dog is feeling. You can check on your pet at any time.
I highly recommend the Nooie Cam 360, which I use in my apartment for my pets, and is available for $50. You can also enable sound notifications to your phone, so if your dog barks, you can be alerted and check on the triggers that are impacting your dog.
(You could also get the treat-dispensing pet cams such as the Furbo, for between $150-200, but the value-add is just not there for me at that price.)
There are many signs of separation anxiety you can look for, and each dog is different, so it can be a combination of different signs.
excessive howling or barking (will likely only know if you have a camera or if your neighbors leave you a passive-aggressive note on your door)
chewing/destroying things they should not (baseboards, furniture, their own leash)
going to the bathroom inside the house when they normally do not
pacing or checking the windows constantly
self-harm (excessive licking, chewing tail, scratching excessively)
trying to escape (room, crate, house) by chewing or digging
sitting by the door all day waiting for you to come home
acting anxious right before you leave the house
Yes, my dog has separation anxiety for sure! What do I do to fix it!?
This is one of the most common questions I have heard from dog parents recently. There are several ways to treat separation anxiety, and there is usually no "silver bullet" that will solve it overnight.
When leaving the house:
Dogs respond to cues from you, and from their environment. Some of those cues are part of your routine before you leave the house. They might include grabbing your jacket, putting on your shoes, grabbing your keys, etc.
First, desensitize your dog from the cues by pretending to leave the house (grab your keys, and put on your shoes, open and close the door), and then stay in the house and do something unexciting (like your zoom meeting with Karen and Bill... ugh...). Continue to do this every day, preferably multiple times a day.
When you do have to leave the house, eradicate your normal cues and, instead, leave abruptly. This means you might have to do things out of order, which can be annoying, but it really does work for a lot of dogs!
Practice leaving the house for a few seconds at a time to teach your dog that you will return when you leave the house. Extend the period of time you leave the house gradually.
Return to the house calmly (no high-pitched greeting or hugs or belly rubs that you might normally do when you come home). Do not give attention when the dog greets over-excitedly (jumping, barking, zoomies, etc.).
Train your dog to stay in "go to your place" and "settle," as you gradually move away from them. Then practice leaving them in a separate room (behind a gate or closed door). If your dog has trouble with this, try leaving a stuffed Kong toy or Licki Mat for them at "place."
Other options besides training*
*but you should really try training first and consult your veterinarian for recommendations on supplements before administering to your dog
Calming Care by Purina - a time-released probiotic to mix into dog food
Zentrol - natural ingredient dog chewable tablet that impacts the dog's GABAA receptors in their brain, which inhibits the central nervous system over-firing
Zylkene - non-drowsy formula uses alpha-casozepine, a natural ingredient found in cow’s milk, to help balance the stress reactions of dogs safely
Adaptil - pheremones that calm your dog like their mother's pheremones
Sound therapy: music, fan, TV, radio, white noise machine
Extreme distress: your veterinarian may recommend psychopharmecuticals (prozac)
CBD: Make sure it is independently tested for quality and a full-spectrum product. I recommend and use Mile High Pawducts' CBD oil for my dog's noise anxiety (thunderstorms, fireworks) and it has been absolutely fantastic. I believe in it so much that I will be offering this CBD oil at our new dog daycare location in Allston, opening this fall.
Assissi Loop / Calmer Canine: FDA approved, drug-free Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (tPEMF™) therapy uses of electromagnetic waves, targeted at specific frequencies for treating pain, inflammation, anxiety or behavioral disorders.
THINGS THAT DO NOT HELP WITH YOUR DOG'S SEPARATION ANXIETY
Getting another pet for your dog
Yelling at your dog
Punishing your dog for destroying things when you're not home
No one said having a dog was going to be easy...
But with these tips and tricks, plus recommendations from your veterinarian, you can do what's best for you and your dog!
For more information on separation anxiety in dogs, you can visit: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety