Have you ever left the house and experienced your dog whimpering or barking as you’re leaving or been told it’s happening while you’re out? Maybe you’ve come, home and your new couch has been shredded to bits, or your pooch has had an accident even though they’ve been potty trained.
Your pup’s fine when you’re around. The trouble seems to only start when you’re leaving or when you were gone. If your dog has exhibited signs of discomfort, fear, or panic when you’re leaving them, they may be experiencing separation stress.
Up to 40% of dogs go through separation stress, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to support your dog’s well-being and make them feel more at home when you’re away.
Use this guide to learn how to look for warning signs and help your dog cope with separation stress.
What Causes Stress in Dogs During Separation?
Dogs experience separation stress when they’re under emotional distress. This distress may be exacerbated by genetics, with some dogs being more likely to experience stress when their owner is gone.
In other cases, separation stress may be due to other circumstances. For example, a dog that its previous owners permanently abandoned may experience restlessness. If there’s environmental stress, like thunder, a dog may experience stress because of a storm and feel uneasy if the owner leaves.
Your dog may experience separation stress every single time you’re away. Or, they might be fine when you leave as long as another person is around.
Common Signs of Separation Stress in Dogs
Separation stress manifests in a variety of ways. Sometimes the result is physically damaging – destroying property, having an accident, etc. Sometimes it’s more emotional, where your pet seems scared or restless.
The issues can vary in severity, but the signs of separation stress in dogs include:
- Destructive behavior to their environment and/or themselves, such as chewing a body part
- Escape attempt, such as hole digging or scratching near doors and windows
- Excessive barking, drooling, whining, or sweating from the paws
- Inappropriate elimination, even when the dog is housetrained
- Hesitation to eat and/or drink
- Restless behavior
A dog who experiences separation stress may also act extremely excited when you arrive home, sometimes to the point of urinating or knocking things over during the commotion. If you’re still not sure if your pet has unease from separation, set up a video camera to record your pet while you’re away. You can show the footage to your veterinarian to help determine the next steps.
How to Reduce & Ease Separation Stress in Dogs
Below we’ve gathered some of the best common and vets recommended ways on how to help dogs with separation stress:
- Come and go quietly: Your vet may recommend that you make departures and arrivals as non-eventful as possible. You might have your things ready to grab and go the night before and slip out quietly. Upon arriving home, you can wait to greet your dog until they’re calm.
- Keep them entertained: Another way to decrease unease from separation is to provide your pet with plenty to do while you’re gone. You can give them a chew stick when you leave or a toy to play with.
- Leave the TV on: Some dogs may even respond to animal-friendly TV programming like the channel DogTV. DogTV cites more than 60 research studies about the positive effects certain types of programming have on dogs, including calming and reducing fear and nervousness.
- Try crate alternatives: If your dog is experiencing nervousness from separation after being put into and left alone in a crate while you’re gone, explore alternative options. You might get a baby gate and set them up in a spare room with some toys and blankets instead. Leave some clothing with your scent on it with them.
- Tire them out: You can also try to get your pet to expel some energy before you leave. Take them for a walk in the morning before you go to work. Or play with them and their favorite toy.
- Keep a calm demeanor: Try to be gentle and soothing when addressing separation stress with your dog. A 2015 study by the University of Nebraska found owner-dog emotions and stress levels synchronize.
- Forgive mistakes: Forgive your dog (and yourself) for any mess, destruction, or heightened uneasiness that has taken place when you left. Use a calm approach to interact with and train your dog.
- Take it Slow: You can start to slowly expose your dog to pre-departure cues like grabbing your keys or putting on your shoes. Stay with them until they’ve calmed down and start to learn there’s nothing threatening about those actions.
- Introduce Medication: When your dog is confirmed to have restlessness from separation, sometimes a veterinarian will prescribe anti-stress medicine. The medicine is not meant to sedate the pet but rather to relax it.
- Seek a Professional: Finally, always take your veterinarian’s recommendations. You may be able to gradually desensitize your dog to your being away with the help of a trainer.
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