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259 Church Street, Richmond, VIC 3121

Separation anxiety

It is normal for dogs to enjoy our company and social interaction, but some dogs become so dependent on us being around they experience anxiety and panic when left alone.

Separation anxiety may be associated with a range of different behaviours:

  • Barking or howling when owner isn’t home
  • Panting and pacing (even when it’s not hot)
  • Hiding
  • Digging
  • Escaping the yard
  • Destroying furniture or home fittings, such as doors or window frames
  • Self-harm such as excessive licking or chewing
  • Change in appetite or refusing to eat
  • Inability to settle
  • Toileting indoors.

Separation anxiety can be challenging to overcome, but there are several strategies you can try to help reduce your pet’s distress.

  • Regular exercise is not just important for your dog’s physical wellbeing, it also provides essential mental stimulation to encourage your pet to relax and rest in between outings.
  • Difficult as it may be, avoid making a big deal out of arrivals and departures – drawn-out farewells and overly enthusiastic greetings can fuel anxiety. Instead try to slip out the door while your dog is distracted with a treat. When you arrive home, ignore your dog for the first five minutes.
  • Some dogs may be reassured by the smell of a recently item of your clothing, although this should be avoided if your dog likes to chew on or destroy fabric.
  • Reward your dog with a favourite toy, food dispensing puzzle or chew treat just before you leave the house to create a positive association with your absence. In addition to providing welcome distraction, chewing and licking is an important calming behaviour for dogs. Care should be taken to ensure your dog can safely consume any treats prior to leaving them unsupervised.
  • Consider using over-the-counter calming products that may help to reduce fear, such as an Adaptil calming pheromone collars, ThunderShirt or Zylkene nutritional supplement.

Training is an important component of managing separation anxiety, particularly desensitising your dog to you leaving the house. Desensitisation involves you repeatedly going through the routine of leaving the house then returning after gradually increasing durations of absence. Begin by picking up your keys and walking towards the door. Don’t exit, instead return your keys and other items and sit down. Do not repeat until your dog is calm and does not follow your every step. Then you can progress to opening the door. Again, do not exit, but return your keys and sit down. Next open the door and step out, then come back inside, return your keys and sit down. If your dog is showing signs of anxiety, keep working on that step until they remain calm when you open the door. Once your dog has mastered this step you can progress to walking through the door and closing it behind you, waiting outside for a few minutes before returning.

Desensitising training sessions should be kept short – only 5-10 minutes at a time – gradually progressing through the steps of you leaving and increasing the duration of your absence over a period of several weeks. Try to ignore anxious behaviour, howling or whimpering and only return when your dog is quiet. If your dog is showing signs of distress during the desensitisation process, you may be progressing too quickly and need to take a step back until your dog regains confidence.

These tips are a good starting point for managing separation anxiety in your dog, but if this behaviour persists or escalates please call our clinic to arrange a consultation with one of our friendly vets. The vet will check for any underlying medical issues that may be contributing to the behaviour and work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan.