We all know our pets hate it when we start packing our bags to jet off on holiday, but if their behaviour becomes especially disruptive it maybe due to a bigger issue - separation anxiety in dogs is particularly common and is triggered by being left at home alone.

how to treat separation anxiety in dogs

What is separation anxiety and what are the signs?

When some dogs are left alone they can become disruptive and destructive. Even house-trained dogs might urinate and defecate whilst their owners are out. Other signs include howling, chewing, digging or even trying to escape. Dogs trying to escape may cause themselves injury and cause destruction to doors and floors. Some people may mistake these signs as bad behaviour, but they can actually be symptoms of distress. The first thing you might notice about separation anxiety in dogs is your pet becoming agitated or depressed as you prepare to leave the house. Some dogs may even try and prevent their owners from leaving. Then as soon as you leave they will begin to bark, whine and present symptoms of fear. Pacing up and down is another symptom to watch out for.

Don't get confused with behavioural problems 

Sometimes it's can be hard to differentiate between behavioural problems and separation anxiety in dogs, this is due to the similar symptoms. There are some behaviours you need to rule out before you can be sure your dog is suffering with separation anxiety.

  1. Puppies and young dogs may be destructive and like to chew, but this behaviour will tend to happen when their owners are at home as well as away.
  2. If your dog is not fully house trained then they may go to the toilet while you are out, as they are scared of being scolded whilst you are there.
  3. Sometimes dogs will urinate when they are excited or playing. Normally dogs like this will act submissively by rolling over and exposing their stomachs which will help you identify this issue.
  4. Dogs marking their territory may be a reason your dog is urinating inside your home.
  5. If your dog is bored this can lead to destructive behaviour as they are looking for mental stimulation. If this is the case they often won't exhibit anxious symptoms.
  6. Excessive barking and howling can be triggered by many things, but usually this behaviour would occur when the owner is at home and is not isolated just to when they are out.
  7. Some dogs may have accidents in the house due to medical problems, such as hormone imbalances and infections. Alternatively some medications may cause your dog to have a weak bladder. If this is the case you should consult your vet.

What’s the solution?

When dealing with your dogs separation anxiety it's important to try and resolve the underlying problem and get them used to your absence.

Dogs can recognise the signs that you are getting ready to leave, like putting on your shoes or coat. So the best thing to do is pretend to prepare to leave the house and then not leave. This will help your dog feel less anxious about you going. Once they are comfortable with you preparing to leave, try leaving them for short amount of time just for a few minutes to start with and then getting longer. You will soon be able to tell if your dog is able to be left alone for longer periods but it is important not to rush things.

How to treat night separation anxiety?

If you've allowed your dog to sleep in your room at night, then it can be extremely difficult to get them to sleep anywhere else. If your dog starts to whimper before bedtime and becomes restless, this maybe due to them suffering from separation anxiety at night.

The first thing to do is stop reacting to your dogs cry's for attention, if you go to comfort them this will reinforce their behaviour. You also need to stop letting them sleep in your bed because instead of reassuring them it will be more difficult to make them sleep anywhere else.

Distance training is great way to train your dog to get them used to being apart from you at night. You should start with your dog sleeping in near proximity to you and gradually move them further away. For example, if your dog is used to sleeping in your bed, start by trying to get them to sleep on the floor next to you. Once you've achieved this, move onto getting them to sleep on the other side of the room or even outside of the room and so on.

Another top tip is not making a big deal out of bed time, just go to bed without making a fuss. It's also a good idea to do some practice runs with them when it's not bed time, so they get used to being left alone in a room.

How do I stop my dog tearing up my home when left alone?

The best way to prevent your dog displaying signs of separation anxiety is to make sure they get plenty of exercise every day. If your dog is happy and tired they will be more relaxed when you leave. It's also important to exercise your dogs mind as well, by playing games such as fetch.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the time to give your dog the exercise they need, it maybe a good idea to consider getting a dog walker. Tailster is the no.1 dog walking provider in the UK. We can help you find the perfect dog walker out of 20,000 local, assessed and insured carers. You will be able to see where your dog has been, the distance travelled and the duration with Tailster tracked walks and photo updates. Rest assured your dog is getting the exercise they need when you can’t be there.

Interactive puzzles are a great way to keep them entertained while you are away, this will help by keeping their mind occupied. Devices such at pet monitoring cameras which have built-in treat dispensers are a great way to keep an eye on your pet and can distract them with tasty treats when they start to exhibit signs of anxiety.

Some people report that essential oils such as lavender, cedar wood and bergamot have calming properties.

What's not going to help

There are some common mistakes to watch out for when dealing with separation anxiety in dogs. Somethings may actually make their anxiety worse such as punishing your dog when they are suffering from separation anxiety will only make the situation worse.

People often make the mistake of getting another dog to keep the dog suffering with separation anxiety company, but this won't help as the anxiety is a result of being separated from you not from other dogs.

Crating your dog will not help with separation anxiety as your dog will still exhibit anxiety responses inside the crate. They may even injure themselves more whilst trying to escape the crate.

Leaving the TV or radio on for your dog may actually make them more anxious. So leave these off whilst you're out.

While obedience training is necessary, it is not the answer when it comes to treating your dog's separation anxiety. Separation anxiety isn't caused by disobedience or lack of training. It's best to consult a professional animal behaviourist for help.

How long does separation anxiety last in dogs?

Separation anxiety usually begins between 9-12 months, if you don't deal with the issue when it starts it can last a lifetime. That's why it's best to deal with the issue as soon as you start to identify the signs.

Which dog breeds suffer from separation anxiety?

All dog can suffer from separation anxiety but some breeds are more prone to it than others. Breeds such as Labradors, Border Collies, Bichon Frises and Toy Poodles are known to suffer with separation anxiety. Whereas French Bulldogs, Dachshunds and Greyhounds are less likely to worry when you're not around.

How long can I leave my dog alone?

The amount of time that dogs can be left on their own depends on their age and their activity level. The longest a dog should be left on their own is four hours. For young puppies four hours would be too long, but for older dogs this would probably be fine. Although on occasions it is okay to leave your dog for longer, you must make sure they have plenty of toys to keep them occupied. You also need to consider if the toys that you are leaving them with are suitable and will not cause them any harm whilst you are not there. It's a good idea to give your dog lots of exercise before leaving them for a long period on their own, this way they will be tired and ready to sleep.

If dog walking isn’t quite enough for your dog then doggy daycare could be the best option for them. Tailster pet carers will give your dog that little extra attention and walks they need whilst you’re away. If your dog prefers its own home comforts then one of our dog sitters will be able to come to your home to take care of them!

Need a hand?

As the largest and most trusted dog walking business in the UK, we've helped over 160,000 dog owners find pet care including dog walkers. If you don't have the time to walk your dog, then we're here to help. With industry-leading insurance cover, tracked GPS dog walks and easy online payments, we've walked thousands of dog walks every week. If you're looking for dog walkers in the UK, Tailster can help.

Work, family and social commitments mean that there often aren't enough hours in the day to give our pets the attention that they deserve. Click here to find out how Tailster can put you in contact with hundreds of pet carers in your local area, meaning that you can rest in the knowledge that your pets are being well looked after.