Free Shipping Over $99*  

How to treat separation anxiety in dogs

How to treat separation anxiety in dogs

It’s a horrible feeling to leave home in the morning, listening to your dog crying out for you to come back or to arrive home, only to be greeted by a frightened and sad-looking pup. Far beyond attention seeking, this behaviour indicates that your dog is in distress.

Like us, dogs can experience anxiety, particularly if they are left alone for long periods. This is known as separation anxiety and can lead to damaging and destructive behaviours.

In this article, we’ll examine what causes separation anxiety and the treatments and tools you can use to keep your dog happy, healthy, and anxiety-free. 

What is dog separation anxiety?

It’s normal for your dog to whine or fuss a little when you leave home; we all miss our favourite people when they’re out at work or away for a few days. Still, the feeling of discomfort can quickly develop into anxiety, which can seriously impact your pet’s behaviour and health.

This anxiety is similar to what we would experience as a panic attack. Imagine being scared of snakes, and suddenly, you’re placed in a room full of them; you’ll start to tremble and sweat as you sit with a discomforting feeling.

Separation anxiety is an intense feeling of stress that your dog experiences when left alone. If you suspect your dog may be experiencing this fear, look out for the signs and symptoms:

  • Excessive barking or whining.
  • Excessive licking, scratching or biting.
  • Continuous pacing.
  • Trembling or signs of anxiety.
  • Chewing a body part (e.g. tail or feet) causing self-harm.
  • Going to the toilet in the house.
  • Trying to escape from the house.
  • Destroying toys, household items or furniture.

Also, pay attention to your dog’s mood and behaviour when you return home. Do they seem scared or anxious? Conversely, do they overreact to your return with excitement that suggests they haven’t seen you for a month? These can all suggest that your dog is dealing with anxiety.

Why do dogs experience separation anxiety?

Higher-intelligence breeds of dogs with complex social needs are likelier to experience social anxiety than lower-maintenance dogs. Breeds such as labradors, border collies, and poodles are more likely to experience separation anxiety because they can get lonely and bored quickly, sometimes leading to destructive behaviours.

Other factors play an integral role in your dog’s anxiety levels, too. If you work full-time and your pets are left alone for the majority of the day, they are more likely to experience separation anxiety. Additionally, dogs with lower confidence levels, such as puppies, rescue dogs, and senior dogs, are all more likely to develop anxiety when separated from you. Any changes to their routine or environment can also impact them.

How to treat separation anxiety in dogs

The good news is that there are many ways that you can help your dog relax and ease the anxiety they are experiencing in your absence. We’ll explore some of them below.

Behaviour modification

You can “train” your dog to adapt to spending time alone through gradual exposure. Owners usually start by leaving their dog alone for a brief moment while they go into another room. Gradually, the time that your dog is alone increases until you can leave the house for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour, and so on.

This works by training your dog to understand that you are coming back, not leaving forever. It does require a lot of time and attention in the early phases and won’t work for everybody’s routine. However, you can enlist the help of family, friends, or experienced pet sitters who will provide calm and companionship to your pup during your absence.

Calming capsules

Supplements can help your pet adjust to changes in routine or deal with stress. Among the most popular is Zylkene, a natural supplement with active ingredients derived from bovine protein. Its purpose is to provide relief from stressful situations like travel or environmental changes.

This type of supplement can help combat separation anxiety by helping your dog feel more relaxed when left alone. These supplements are easy to administer and come in varied forms to suit your pet. 

Other supplements come in powder form and contain ingredients such as Vitamin B1, hemp powder, chamomile, and valerian root to balance your dog’s hormones and emotions and to negate the effects of separation anxiety, such as fear and hyperactivity.

As with any pill or medication, consulting your vet beforehand is a good idea.

Soothing sprays and drops

Calming sprays and drops are another non-prescription option for stress and anxiety relief for your pet. Brands such as Thunder Essence contain Lavender, Chamomile, and Egyptian Geranium. 

Lavender interacts with the central nervous system to create a calm, grounding effect; Chamomile helps keep your dog calm by relaxing the muscles and acting as an anti-inflammatory; and Geranium can soothe your dog by reducing stress and anxiety.

When using sprays or drops, always follow the instructions. Generally, you’ll add a few drops to your dog’s body, bed, or blankets. Always avoid your dog’s head and sensitive areas; check if the product is safe to use as a body mist, and avoid application to the body if your pet has any known allergies or sensitive skin issues.

Diffusers and calming collars

When a mother dog lactates, she naturally produces a pheromone that helps her puppies feel safe and secure, even in unknown environments. A diffuser synthetically creates this pheromone to reassure your pup and maintain a calming environment.

Alternatively, you can opt for a “calm collar” to reduce dog anxiety. This works similarly to a diffuser by releasing a continuous dose of pheromones to help reduce fear and stress. These odourless devices can also combat stress-related behaviours such as:

  • House-soiling
  • Excessive salivation or licking
  • Vocalisation
  • Feeding issues
  • Destructive behaviours

Regular exercise

Regular exercise is integral for a dog’s health. Ideally, take them for a walk before you have to leave. This helps them expend energy, making it easier for them to relax when they’re alone. Additionally, playing interactive games like tug-of-war or fetch gives them quality time with you before you have to leave.

Consider taking your pup for a walk during your lunch break or after work to ensure they get 30-60 minutes of essential exercise daily.

Again, where you need some help to keep them topped up with enough regular exercise, enlist a local Dog Walker or Doggy Daycare.

Mad Paws Dog Trainer or Dog Walker can help to maintain regular exercise which can also help manage their anxiety.
using behaviour modification to manage anxiety in dogs

Interactive toys

A great way to tackle separation anxiety is to provide enrichment to help reduce your dog’s anxiety. Chew toys can sway their attention away from destructive behaviours, while toys can provide entertainment so they don’t get bored at home.

Give your dog a licking mat smeared with something yummy, like pureed pumpkin or yoghurt. The design of these mats challenges your dog in retrieving its treat and helps avoid overeating. Additionally, the action of licking will help to calm your dog, promote healthy gums and teeth, and stimulate saliva production for optimum digestive health.

Licking mat for helping treat anxiety in dogs
Licking mats for dogs can help distract them from feeling anxious

Licking mats are not chew toys, so you must examine them regularly for any signs of damage. If the mat is compromised, you should remove it from your pet’s environment immediately.

Calming clothes and snuggly beds

Although the name might suggest these garments are intended for use during a storm, there are far more benefits to a Thundershirt. When worn, the garment applies gentle pressure to your dog’s torso, helping to soothe and calm them.

sash calming dog bed for anxiety

A calming bed is another excellent way to decrease your dog’s anxiety. By choosing a product made of luxury fabrics, you can emulate the softness and warmth that a young pup would feel as they snuggled up to their mum. This sense of comfort is an excellent way to make your dog feel calm and reduce the anxiety caused by separation.

Separation anxiety is more than your dog trying to get your attention; it is a significant fear that can impact both their physical and mental wellbeing. Luckily, there are numerous ways to tackle this problem so you and your pup can both enjoy some alone time.


You might also like

Are dog dental chews effective? Which ones are best?

Explore the effectiveness of dog dental chews, compare them with brushing, and find the best options for dental health.

What’s your pet’s body condition score (BCS)?

Learn to assess your cat or dog’s Body Condition Score for optimal health with our guide on BCS, including tips for diet and exercise management.

What does your pet’s poop say about their health?

A dog’s poop says a lot about their overall health. It’s important to check their stool and look for four key markers that provide insight into your dog’s health.