How to ease separation anxiety in dogs

The end of lockdown has left our furry friends with more time alone than they were used to, resulting in distress for some dogs.  Here’s how to handle it. 

Separation anxiety isn’t just for humans. In fact, many animals experience it, but it often gets misdiagnosed because so many symptoms – like chewing – resemble misbehaviour.

While no one knows the exact cause, changes in routine, location and ownership are all triggers, as is the loss of a family member.

Some breeds, such as Jack Russells, Border Collies, Lab Retrievers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (all hugely social dogs) are more prone to it than others, like French bulldogs and Bassett hounds, for example. 

Typical signs of separation anxiety include:

  • Excessive barking, whimpering or whining
  • Following your around the house   
  • Trying to escape when home alone  
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Increased sensitivity to usually “harmless” sounds
  • Destructive behaviours such as chewing objects or destroying the garden
  • Having “accidents” in the house, even though they’re trained
  • Obsessive habits, such as constant licking or grooming
  • Loss of appetite

Potential solutions:

  • If the problem is mild, start by gradually getting your pet used to time apart while you’re still at home. Leave him outdoors or in a separate room for a while each day. Consistency creates predictability – which dogs like!
  • When going out, leave your dog with something stimulating and fun, like a puzzle food toy or delicious bone and chew toys. These will serve as a distraction and help your dog to associate being alone with a positive “reward”.
  • If your dog is going to remain indoors, you can also leave the TV or radio on so that the house feels less lonely. A blanket with your scent on it will be a comfort too.
  • Keep your hellos and goodbyes calm and fuss-free as this will help create an understanding that your absence is no big deal.
  • Daily exercise is vital is it will help your pet to expend excess energy and feel calmer (read: sleepy!) when you’re not around.
  •  For more severe separation anxiety, chat to your vet about natural, over-the-counter supplements or medication and consider enlisting the help of an animal behaviour specialist.

Whatever happens, don’t punish or scold your dog as this will only heighten his distress. Kindness and compassion are key here, as is patience and persistence.

Gareth Drawbridge

Digital content producer
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