Dogs make great companions for a reason. Unlike some pets, they’re sociable animals that prefer to be around other dogs and people. Whether you’re out on an adventure or curled up on the sofa, they’ll love being in your company. And the more time you spend with them, the stronger the bond between you and your four-legged pal.
One of the positives from the past year of lockdowns is staying at home with our pets. There’s been no dreaded morning goodbyes, no leaving your dog alone and no overnight boarding. While your dog might have been used to time alone before, they’ve adapted to this new normal. Not to mention the puppies and 1-year olds who haven’t experienced separation. As lockdown starts to ease and we gradually return to normality, how will our dogs cope?
We’ve explored the causes of separation anxiety in dogs and some of our top tips to minimise stress and keep your dog calm.
What is separation anxiety?
Firstly, it’s essential to spot the signs of genuine separation anxiety and what is simply bad behaviour. Some dogs may be destructive when left alone because they’re bored, whereas some dogs feel upset and stressed. Agitation and anxiety may start as you’re preparing to leave the house, with your dog acting visibly distressed or trying to prevent you from going.
What are the causes of separation anxiety?
Any change in your dog’s life can trigger separation anxiety. Although it’s more common in younger dogs, any dog can develop separation anxiety later in life. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, or if you’re concerned about them developing it in future, here are the common causes:
- A new routine or socialisation pattern – could be caused by returning to work or needing to send them to doggy daycare.
- A change in surroundings - a house move or spending time in unfamiliar environments, such as a new office.
- Death of another pet – if your dog has always had the company of another pet, they’ll grieve for their lost friend.
- Long holidays – extended time spent away from you with family or in kennels.
- A change in the family or new dog parent – either the loss of a family member or a change in the family dynamic.
- A traumatic experience – even a storm or fireworks can cause your dog to feel safer in your company.
- Genetics – research has shown that some breeds are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety. This anxious behaviour tends to be caused by sound sensitivity, which you can manage.
What are the symptoms of separation anxiety?
If your dog is left home alone, you might not always know how they’ve coped without you. But here are some of the tell-tale signs of distress:
Your dog may jump at the door as you’re leaving. Then once you’re gone, they’ll relieve stress by chewing through furniture and any other possessions you’ve left within reach. If your dog chews your belongings, be careful not to punish them, as it’s likely they’ve chosen items that smell like you to ease their anxiety.
Howling, Barking or Whining
Howling or barking are common signs of separation anxiety. It’s likely that this is temporary as your dog will become tired. However, some of our tips will help to manage your dog’s behaviour while they’re left home alone.
Some dogs may wee or poo in the house when they’re left alone, regardless of the time. It usually happens shortly after you’ve left. Assuming they’re fully house trained, it’s triggered by anxiety and not due to bad behaviour.
If your dog starts pacing as you’re getting ready to leave the house, this is a sign of separation anxiety. They may dart between your front and back door or pace around as you put on your shoes and collect your things.
Separation anxiety isn’t always vocal or destructive. Look out for signs of your dog excessively panting or drooling. Always ensure your dog is left with plenty of water to prevent dehydration while they’re home alone.
Reducing separation anxiety in dogs
There are ways to reduce separation anxiety so that your dog becomes used to being left alone at home over time. Starting early and planning for potential triggers, like returning to work, can ensure you’ve prepared your dog for what’s to come. Here are a few changes you can introduce today for a happier, calmer dog:
1. Calmer hellos and goodbyes
Sometimes without realising, your behaviour can cause your dog’s separation anxiety. Your excited or emotional hellos and goodbyes could be reinforcing your dog’s anxiety. Staying calm when you leave the house and when you come home will keep your dog relaxed. When you come back home, wait to say hello to your excited pup until they’ve calmed down to reward their calmness and reinforce good behaviour.
2. Change your leaving behaviour
Your dog may pick up on signs that you’re leaving the house, triggering their separation anxiety. Some minor changes to your behaviour can break your dog’s association and reduce stress. Try putting your shoes on and not leaving the house or leaving the house through a different door and giving your dog toys to distract them. Keeping your routine as varied as possible will reduce separation anxiety.
3. Train your dog to be left alone
Training is a gradual process, but one that with some discipline will result in a calmer dog. Start shutting your dog in a room alone while you’re in the house. Depending on the anxiety level, this could start from 10-20 seconds and build up to an hour over many weeks. Ensuring your dog has a comfortable place to sleep or play on their own will teach your dog to be independent and reduce any anxieties.
Natural remedies for separation anxiety
For more immediate home remedies for separation anxiety, there’s a wide range of natural remedies which are entirely safe for your dog. Here are some of our favourites:
Believe it or not, research has shown that dogs stress levels reduce when they listen to certain types of music. In different studies, classical, reggae and soft rock all reduced dogs heart rates. Next time you’re heading out, put the radio on or select one of a growing number of dog-friendly playlists on Spotify. It may just be what your dog needs to unwind, and if nothing else it’ll help to disguise any outside noise from agitating your pup.
Exercise is essential for leaving your dog calm and relaxed. Before leaving your dog home alone, always make sure they’ve had enough exercise. know how much exercise your dog typically needs, but this could be a run, walk, play at the park or even chasing a ball in the garden. Burning off some energy before you leave will tire them out, meaning they’re more likely to spend their time enjoying a much-needed nap!
Natural calming supplements are a safer alternative to over-the-counter medication. They work within 30 minutes to calm your dog before any stressful event, such as separation or thunderstorms.
Giving them a tasty treat-size supplement before you leave them alone will keep them calm and trick them into thinking they’re being rewarded.
Natural Calming Spray
Our natural calming spray can be applied directly to your dog’s coat to calm anxieties at the same time as removing any pongy odours. It’s a win-win!
The essential oils help aid anxiety naturally, meaning you can safely use our spray every day if you need to. The hypoallergenic formula is suitable for even the most sensitive skin.
Hemp Calming Oil
Our hemp calming oil can be applied directly to your dog’s chest and massaged in, by adding a few drops to a room diffuser or even mixed with water to create a calming room spray.
The versatile hemp oil reduces separation anxiety to keep them calmer and happier when left alone at home. It’s safe for dogs of any age, including puppies from 6-8 weeks.
To prepare your anxious dog ready for your return to work, explore our dedicated range of natural dog calming and behaviour products.