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5 min read

Tips and Tricks for Dogs with Severe Separation Anxiety


By hannah hollinger

Published: 06/03/2019, edited: 09/07/2022

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Our dogs are our best buddies and number one companions. We feed them the best of diets, and we snuggle and cuddle with them at every chance. We take them for walks and help them learn by going to obedience training. Why it is then, after all that caring treatment, that some dogs suffer from canine separation anxiety when left alone? Why do they feel that when we leave, we are never coming back?

To answer these questions, we’ll delve into what severe separation anxiety in dogs looks like and why your dog may be experiencing it. Most importantly, we will give tips and tricks on how to deal with and help a dog with separation anxiety.

What Are The Signs Of Severe Separation Anxiety?

At first, you come home and see that your perfectly toilet trained rescue dog or puppy has had an accident in the house. Maybe you feel guilty and think, have I been away too long? Could they not hold it? But then, the urinating and bowel movements in the house begin to increase – but only when you are not at home.

Perhaps your puppy has destroyed your favorite shoes. You put it down to puppy chewing until you realize the behavior is becoming increasingly frequent and they are moving on to bigger things like the sofa cushions. Or, a rescue dog exhibits destructive behavior every time you leave the house. They start with digging and scratching at the carpet and then tackle the baseboards. In between the frantic chewing, they often pace the floor.

Other signs you may notice in your dog is wet fur on the chest, a sign of excessive panting and drooling. Self-trauma is another indication that your dog is in deep distress when you are away from them. Many dogs will bite at their legs or tail as a form of stress relief to the point of removing fur. If you hear your best buddy barking and howling when you leave and again when you return, it likely means they have been doing it the entire time you’ve been out.

Why Do Dogs Get Severe Separation Anxiety?

You may ask, why does my dog bark when I leave? Dogs are social animals who have a pack mentality and some dogs never want to be separated from their pack. While many can cope with periods of alone time, others become anxious even before you leave the house.

The distress shown when you leave is never the fault of a caring and affectionate family. Dogs who display unsettling behaviors when left alone are experiencing real fear and understanding the anxiety is key to working through it. Some experts think there may be a genetic component to the stress as well; dogs that may be predisposed to a fear of being alone include German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Labrador Retrievers.

A change in the family dynamics can bring on separation anxiety, such as the death of a member of the family. Moving to a new house can often cause distress in a dog who does not do well with new surroundings and routines. A puppy crying when left alone may be trying to say they do not know how to behave on their own. Both a puppy or a rescue dog may have experienced a trauma or mistreatment that has affected their sense of security. Lack of socialization when young can be another factor.

How To Cure Severe Separation Anxiety

Remember, some dogs are never cured – but you can provide coping mechanisms. To follow are tricks of the trade, suggested by professionals who deal with these situations every day in their work with anxious dogs.

First, if your dog has a severe case of separation anxiety, it may become a full-time job to cure it and that means you will need a support system in the form of caring and understanding friends and pet sitters who can stay with your dog during the times when you absolutely need to leave the house for a bit. You don’t want your efforts to be in vain with a setback. So, get support in place and then try these tips and tricks.

  • Start with a veterinarian visit to ensure that there is not a medical reason behind the behavior
  • When at the vet, discuss whether anti-anxiety medication can help as you take steps to help your dog
  • Consider adding calming supplements to your pup’s diet
  • Exercise your dog well (even to the point of a two-hour walk) before you leave as this may help them relax
  • Resist a lot of cuddling for a while to not make the attachment worse; once your dog is more at ease when you leave you can amp up the hugs and kisses again
  • If your furry pal associates the car keys with you leaving, as a desensitizing tool, pick the keys up often throughout the day, carry them for a few minutes and then put them back
  • When you do have to go out, have your sitter in place and make the coming and going a very low key event; don’t make it a big deal
  • Change your dog’s expectations by leaving, closing the door and returning immediately, each time gradually extend the time
  • Give pheromones a try; these are sprays, diffusers, and collars that emit a scent that has a calming effect on the brain
  • Try a thunder shirt on your dog; this is a natural way to lessen anxiety in your dog by providing a sense of security
  • Fill a treat toy with dog-safe peanut butter and give it to your dog when you are at home but in a different room, allowing them to enjoy it several times; then give it to them when leaving as an activity and they may associate the fun with being alone
  • Play a CD specific to calming dogs when you are not home
  • Do not rule out the help of a dog behavioralist

Specialists sometimes suggest that when you are trying the above techniques, start with very short absences, working your way up in time increments. Have a webcam that allows you to observe the dog while you are “away”, enabling you to re-enter the home before the anxiety becomes too frantic. The pace will be slow; it has to be that way. Take a day off every week, where you stay home and just enjoy your dog without worrying about the training.

Start a support group in your area for pet parents of dogs with severe separation anxiety. Owning a dog who cannot be left alone is not an easy thing.  Form friendships with others who understand your plight fully and as a bonus, you can exchange tips and tricks for helping your pets move beyond the anxious moments.

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