Help Your Dog with Separation Anxiety

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Do you have a dog with separation anxiety? If so, you’re not alone.

After spending so much time working at home, suddenly pets are having to stay home alone. Chances are they got used to having us around all the time.

Now, all of sudden, they are showing signs of separation anxiety.

What are some of these signs? 

  • window shades askew
  • pillows tossed off furniture
  • home furnishings chewed
  • toys shredded or destroyed
  • accidents in the house
  • pet not eating food in your absence
  • excessive barking
  • excessive shedding

Signs of dogs with separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is especially acute in newly adopted pets. I learned this the hard way with my dog Oscar, whom we rescued in 2015. 

A few weeks after bringing him home, I had to attend a conference out of town. My husband was at work all day, and my daughters were at school. 

Oscar had my other dog Sadie with him as company. In addition, we had a dog walker coming in every four hours to walk them.

Nonetheless, he still destroyed the furniture in the guest bedroom where we kept our dogs when we left the house. That’s a picture of him, below.

You’ll notice that he’s turned over a dresser and pulled all of the clothes out. What you can’t see is the molding around the door that he chewed.

Dogs can hurt themselves

Clearly, Oscar was suffering from separation anxiety from his new humans.

While this pet shaming picture the dog walker sent to me is adorable, it’s a sign that Oscar could have seriously hurt himself. 

Dogs have been known to get hung up in the blinds and try to jump through a window to get out of the house. While this article is about pets with separation anxiety, you may see these anxious signs in dogs on loud holidays like the 4th of July, too.

Can you crate your anxious dog

We knew that Oscar could not go in a crate. His foster parent had told us how he’d freak out and chew through the crate tray if put in a crate.

However, his sister, Sadie, is very much a den animal. Whenever she’s feeling anxious, she’ll go into her crate by herself. 

For some dogs with separation anxiety, having a crate may make them feel the safest when they have anxiety.

However, we never expected that a closed door of a guest bedroom would upset Oscar so much. 

After that experience we would always leave the dogs in a room with a window that faced the street so they could watch the comings and goings. That seemed to calm them down and stopped the separation anxiety in its tracks. In the seven years since, Oscar has never destroyed another thing when we left him alone.

oscar and sadie looking out the window home alone

How long to leave a dog alone

In addition, we’ve tried not to leave the dogs alone for more than six hours at a time. Experts say this timeframe max is a good rule of thumb except for really young dogs. 

For example, don’t leave puppies alone for very long without having someone to let them out. They have smaller bladders and need to relieve themselves more often.

So with young dogs, try not to leave them alone for longer than four hours. Older dogs can go longer–up to six or seven hours.

Just think about your overnight hours with your dog. If they’re sleeping through the night–typically, seven to eight hours–then you can likely leave them alone for this long, if necessary. However, I wouldn’t recommend this on a regular basis.

Give them regular walks

In addition to age, consider the activity level of your dog. If your dog is exercised frequently, you may want to hire a dog walker to come in more often than every six to seven hours. 

I walk my dogs every four or so hours. That’s good for them and good for me. It gets me out of my office multiple times a day. 

Knowing that they are used to frequent walks, we always arrange to have a dog walker. Knowing that someone is coming every four hours helps prevent separation anxiety and, honestly, makes me feel less anxious about leaving them for long periods of time.

Finally, with an elderly dog, you may want to think more along the lines of a puppy timeframe. Old dogs need to go out more often. Plus, it’s good to get them up and moving.

More than just separation anxiety

Even so it’s important to remember that just being left alone isn’t all that upsets some pets. They may also become frightened by unexpected noises.

In fact, it is not uncommon for dogs with separation anxiety to also suffer from noise anxiety, also known as noise aversion. This definitely describes Oscar.

When we’re out walking in town, he will alway cower when a truck drives by. Also, he tries to run away from loud motorcycles.

And don’t even get me started on thunderstorms or fireworks. We end up having to turn on fans all over the house to drown out the sound. 

You can also try a white noise machine

If all else fails, you can talk to your doctor about medical interventions.

Medical treatment of dog separation anxiety 

There are a whole host of medicines that fall into the anti-anxiety category for dogs. Some of these are even used as antidepressants in humans. 

However, never self medicate your dog. Discuss your options with your veterinarian and see if those medications are right for your dogs. 

Some of the medication names your vet might share:

  • Clomicalm or Clomipramine
  • Reconcile  or Fluoxetine
  • Sileo 
  • Alprazolam

Finally, some vets and dog owners are using CBD to help calm their dogs. I don’t have any personal experience giving my dogs CBD. 

So I can’t recommend it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for some pups. However, talk to your vet.

Tips for leaving the house with anxious dog

One of the best ways to help your dog deal with being left alone is trying behavior modification–yours and the dogs. 

For starters, don’t make a big deal about leaving, with lots of kissy noises and prolonged good-byes. If you’ve ever had to take your young child to daycare or leave them the first day at preschool, you know there can be crying. 

But staying and trying to comfort them is the worst thing to do. You should be very matter of fact about leaving. 

You might even consider ignoring the dog for the 30 or so minutes before you leave. Then, a few minutes before you leave, give them a Kong full of peanut butter or food puzzles to keep them occupied.

This is the strategy we use with Oscar and Sadie. They only get peanut butter-filled Kongs when we are leaving, so this is a big treat for them. 

I don’t acknowledge them as I’m filling the Kongs in the kitchen. Once I have the Kongs done, the dogs gladly follow me into the room where we leave them when we leave. 

I put the Kongs on the floor and quietly went out the door. That’s not to say they don’t bark or howl. But I know that it’s for a short time only.

Training to avoid separation anxiety

If you’ve never left your dog alone and you fear that doing so will leave them anxious, here are some tips on how to prep them

Start by giving them a Kong, walking out of the house, maybe walking to the end of the driveway and then coming back. Gradually work up to leaving them alone for 30 minutes. 

Get to a point with all your different modifications so your dogs aren’t showing separation anxiety. It likely won’t happen quickly so take it one step at a time. You can’t rush the process. But for most dogs, this approach will eventually work.

Here is advice for introducing your dog to your date.

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