How to Treat Dog Separation Anxiety
As a professional dog behaviourist, who works with many veterinary practises, I encounter many cases of dogs who need help in one way or another. By far, the most complex cases I deal with are dogs with separation anxiety issues. It can be a very emotional situation not only for the dog, but the owner and family alike. Often times I find owners not knowing what to do to help their dog, or even be aware of some basic steps to start helping their dog at home.
Many feel as if they will never be able to leave home because of their dog’s panicked state. Don’t despair, there is help for separation anxiety in dogs but there are some steps you can take at home to help as well. As you read on, you will see why I recommend working with a professional, but I also know not everyone will or is able to do so. At the end of the day helping your dog slowly overcome the anxiety is what is important. To set your dog up for success, you need to identify the issue and prep them for training as best as possible.
Recap: What Does Dog Separation Anxiety Look Like?
If you missed our first article which was a general overview of dog separation anxiety please click here. We covered what to look for, some possible triggers of the problem, and common mistakes to avoid.
Unfortunately, pet owners often misdiagnose dog separation anxiety because some symptoms resemble other dog behaviour. This behaviour can range from toilet accidents, to barking, to destruction of furniture and household items from chewing and scratching. What you really have to understand is when a dog with separation anxiety is left alone, he or she literally has a panic attack. This behaviour is merely a symptom of this panic. Panicked dogs can:
- Destroy doorways
- Chew furniture
- Rip open rubbish
- Break out of crates
- Drool excessively
- Pant heavily
- Defecate and / or urinate
- Be aggressive when you try to leave
- Refuse to eat treats
- Pace around
- Walk in circles
A red flag that this dog may have separation anxiety is if this behaviour only occurs when you, or a specific person in the household, is not around. If when you are at home, not even necessarily side by side with your dog, and they are calm, you should seek help verifying the issue. Separation anxiety is a serious behaviour issue not only because the dog is severely anxious and stressed but because, with some behaviours, they can badly hurt themselves from the erratic behaviour they demonstrate when in this panicked state.
Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT)
Many dog trainers and behaviourists refer out separation anxiety cases because this complex issue is beyond their skill level and they do not have the rigorous training a CSAT has. It is important for the dog owner to ask the right questions of a potential trainer or behaviourist, especially if you feel separation anxiety could be the cause of your dog’s behaviour problems as this is a specialised area in dog behaviour.
CSAT trainers must exceed extremely high standards before even entering the programme. They complete a rigorous three-month training regimen solely focused on separation anxiety. A huge benefit of partnering with CSATs is they offer separation anxiety training anywhere. This means no matter where you live in the world, a CSAT can help your dog overcome the crippling panic that is separation anxiety.
How to Treat Separation Anxiety Disorder in Dogs
We know it takes time to see a vet, discuss the problems with a dog behaviourist, and then begin working with that behaviourist or another CSAT. So what do you do in the meantime to help ease your dog’s suffering when they are alone?
Leaving your Dog Alone
The first thing you can do to help your dog is not to leave him alone. I know that this can be difficult to achieve but it is the kindest way to help alleviate his suffering. There are many options open to you such as doggy day car, pet sitting, neighbours, friends, taking him to work and various websites that offer free dog sitting such as borrowmydoggy.com
Although the best course of action is working directly with a CSAT, I have found prescription medication effective to help calm your dog down and prepare them for training – not all dogs need medication but for many it does help the dog and speed up the training. To be clear, this is not by any means a permanent solution, and should only be used in conjunction with a training plan and you need to be aware that these medications will take several weeks to become properly effective. Speak to your vet about the options available but don’t delay in getting help from a behaviourist as there is plenty that can be done to start your dog on the road to recovery whilst the medication is taking effect.
That said, you will find a multitude of non-prescription products on the market that claim they can help calm a dog down. There is nothing to stop you trying these if you don’t want to start your dog on prescription medication but in In my experience, because the panic your dog is experiencing is so severe, I have found these products are not usually very effective. If you want to try some of these products first you can look at such things as –
A DAP Collar or diffuser
A DAP Collar or diffuser (dog appeasing pheromones) can have a calming effect on some dogs. Both the collar and diffuser last about 30 days. It may just help take the edge of the panic, but it is not a long term solution to fixing behaviour.
White noise machine or soothing instrumental music
White noise machine or soothing instrumental music may also help your pup especially if he or she is very noise sensitive. White noise will help to block out sounds from the outside world that may make your dog even more anxious. Try playing white noise (which you can get for free on the web or as an app or buy a white noise machine) alongside another device that plays soothing instrumental music.
Various Calming Supplements.
Various Calming Supplements. These dietary supplements are something between a medication and a vitamin. They are meant to have calming effects on some dogs, but may take time to have effect. In other words, give it time!
We will be discussing the use of supplements and prescription medication in our upcoming blog, so stay check back soon!
Ready for Training
In this article we have addressed how to better recognise and identify dog separation anxiety, who to turn to when you suspect it, and how to potentially calm your dog down slightly whilst you find a CSAT to help you with a programme.
In our next article, we will be discussing specific steps that can be used to help cope with separation anxiety if you are not able to work with a CSAT immediately. We will also be reviewing some common myths surrounding SA, and addressing the use of supplements and prescription medications during treatment in future articles. Make sure to check back soon!