Calm Canine Academy’s Karishma Warr spoke with Petminded about Separation Anxiety. Here's what we learned!
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a panic disorder that causes some dogs to become distressed when left alone. There are three categories that fall under the umbrella of separation anxiety, which are:
- Clinical Separation Anxiety refers to extreme attachment to one guardian. The dog will become distressed when that guardian leaves, even if another guardian is present.
- Isolation Distress refers to dogs who panic when left completely alone but are okay in the company of any human, even if they are not the dog’s guardian.
- Confinement Anxiety occurs in dogs who become distressed when left in a crate, playpen, or any kind of confinement system. This often goes hand in hand with the other two forms of separation anxiety because some trainers will recommend crating an anxious dog when leaving them alone.
Three common indicators of separation anxiety, which are observed when the dog is left alone or about to be left alone, are vocalization, destructive behavior, and elimination (peeing and pooping!). Some known factors that can cause separation anxiety are:
- Multiple rehoming events
- Illness during puppyhood
- Early weaning
- Traumatic events
- Death of a loved one and
- Genetic predisposition
Separation anxiety myths
There are several common myths when it comes to separation anxiety for dogs. These include:
- Sleeping in the guardian’s bed causes separation anxiety
- Coddling causes separation anxiety
- Not being a pack leader causes separation anxiety
- Getting another dog will solve separation anxiety
- Your dog is “getting back at you” for leaving
- Letting them “cry it out” will solve separation anxiety
- Giving your dog attention when they’re barking or whining will reinforce anxiety
- Separation anxiety isn’t treatable
What not to do
These methods will not help resolve your dog's separation anxiety issues:
- Punishment (ex. shock collar)
- Let them bark it out
- Managing with confinement
Treating separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can often be improved with management techniques. It's always a good idea to involve your vet to find out if there are any underlying issues contributing. Some dogs may need treatement measures.
Management Techniques help minimize separation anxiety. Some ideas include:
- Do not leave the dog completely alone for longer than they can handle. We can’t realistically be with our dogs 24/7, but we can ask our community for support! Try asking a neighbor or a friend to keep your dog company if you're gone for an extended period of time.
- Shield from pre-departure cues (putting on shoes, picking up keys, etc.)
- Check for underlying health issues to make sure they are not barking/whining due to pain.
- Discuss anti-anxiety medication. It is best to go to a vet who specializes in behavior.
Systematic Desensitization is a treatment method that includes:
- Daily structured desensitization sessions expose the dog to alone time.
- Always work under the dog’s threshold for panic. Never push them into displaying full blown anxiety symptoms.
- Commit to 20-30 minutes 5-6 days a week
- This takes time! Progress is seen over months, not days or weeks.
Separation anxiety can cause a lot of distress for both dogs and their guardians. Nobody wants to see their dog in psychological pain, and we can’t be with our dog all day every day. Luckily separation anxiety can be effectively treated, despite the myth that it is not treatable. It will take a lot of time and patience, but it will be worth it for your dog’s mental well-being. You will likely need some help during the process, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a certified separation anxiety trainer or behaviorist for support!