Every pet parent has been there. You are ready to walk out the door, but your dog has the puppy eyes on full display and his head hanging low, laying it on thick. It’s enough to make you feel guilty for having a job! This can be a sign of separation anxiety, so read on to learn how to tell for sure.
As a dog owner, there’s nothing worse than leaving the house in the morning not knowing what kind of mess you will have to deal with when you get home. In addition, angry landlords or neighbors who may get sick of the noise are no fun either.
But here’s what you need to know. Dogs are social animals. They need interaction with their pack — you and the rest of the family — and spending time at home alone goes against their nature.
Boredom and separation anxiety are common issues for dogs. Understanding what to do can be a real challenge for pet parents. Here’s how to know if your dog has separation anxiety or is simply bored, plus what you can do to help.
Boredom vs Separation Anxiety: How to Tell the Difference
Signs of Boredom
Dogs are similar to people in many ways. Without adequate mental and physical stimulation, they become bored. When a dog doesn’t get enough exercise or his routine stays the same every day, it’s no surprise that he will get bored!
A bored dog is asking for trouble! He will look for ways to keep busy, like barking at everyone who walks by or chewing up your stuff. Many owners assume their dogs are simply acting out for being left alone, but that may not be the case. Dogs are not capable of spite. This situation can be corrected by offering more exercise, socialization, and interactive dog toys for mental stimulation.
How to Know it’s Separation Anxiety
When a dog has separation anxiety, his behavior will be much more extreme. He’s not just bored, he’s truly distressed about being left alone. Remember, your dog has always had company. During puppyhood, it was his mom and littermates. Eventually, his pack became you and your family.
Separation anxiety is common for dogs that have experienced trauma in the past, even if his new home is loving and secure.
These extreme behaviors can be signs of separation anxiety:
- Potty accidents, even though if your dog is housetrained.
- Frantic attempts to escape the home, a crate, or a room that result in injury.
- Chewing or digging that becomes extremely destructive.
- Continuous howling, barking, or whining from the moment you leave.
- Extreme clinginess when you attempt to leave the house.
- Frantic jumping, whining, and barking when you get back home.
- Pacing and other signs of distress or anxiety when you’re getting ready to leave, including drooling or panting.
If these scenarios sound familiar, your dog may have separation anxiety.
According to the veterinarians at Bond Vet, they have seen dogs who “learn these behaviors over time to get more attention. It’s also common in shelter dogs who’ve had a tough past.” A newly adopted dog might just be having a hard time adjusting to a new home. Changes in the family dynamics, moving to a new house, or adding a new pet to the family can also trigger separation anxiety.
How to Help a Dog with Separation Anxiety
Before you attempt to resolve your dog’s separation anxiety through training, talk to your veterinarian. A quick conversation or visit will ensure that there is not a medical issue that’s causing his behavior.
Here are several techniques that can be helpful:
- Crate training: If you’re lucky enough to come into your dog’s life when he’s still a puppy, consider crate training. He’ll learn to think of his crate as a safe place, and it will teach him that it’s ok to be on his own for a little while. Older dogs can be crate trained, but it will take more patience and time.
- Wear him out before you leave: If you know you’re going to be heading out, take your dog out for some exercise to burn up that nervous energy. You could go for a long, brisk walk or head to the back yard to play fetch. Even if you have to get up early, it will be worth it. You will be establishing a new routine that your dog loves and wearing him out so he naps while you’re gone.
- Get some extra help: If you can go home and walk your dog at lunchtime, that’s great. If not, consider hiring a dog walker to do it for you. It will give your anxious dog something to look forward to, and the exercise and interaction should help him remain calm for the rest of the day.
- Consider doggie daycare: Doggie daycare doesn’t work for every dog, but it’s worth finding out if your dog likes it. If he’s the social type, it might be perfect.
- Invest in some interactive toys: Treat puzzles and other interactive toys can give an anxious dog something to do when you’re not home. Stuff a few different ones with your pup’s favorite treats before you leave, and he might not even realize you’re gone.
- Don’t make a fuss when you leave or come home. If you make it a “big deal” when you come and go, you are teaching your dog that it’s something to get anxious about. Do what you need to do without any fanfare. Stay calm and patient and wait to give your dog attention until he’s calm as well.
Some Final Advice
There are a lot of safe and effective anti-anxiety medications for dogs. If your dog is so anxious that he’s causing damage or injuring himself, talk to your veterinarian. Your vet may recommend medication to keep your dog calm and safe while you continue to work on behavior modification.
Nicole is a die-hard animal lover who has worked in pet care for years. She is a former vet technician and a dog mom to her two rescue pups. She grew up living and working at her family’s pet boarding facility. Nicole loves using her writing talents to share the insight she’s learned throughout her career in the hopes that her knowledge can help other pet parents out there!