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