Have you ever left your fur baby alone at home for a short time, only to come back to find your sweet pup has shredded her bedding or perhaps strewn garbage through the house? You might have thought this was simply a case of bad behavior, but when a typically well-behaved dog gets destructive only when you’re away from home, you can usually chalk it up to separation anxiety.
What’s the Cause?
Separation anxiety is common in dogs, but it can be so frustrating for pet parents. This issue is defined as a dog becoming anxious or nervous when its guardians are away. It can take place even when you are away for a few minutes. Separation anxiety can manifest in many forms. It can be as simple as your dog pacing and whining in his crate while you’re gone, or it can be evident when your dog becomes destructive when you leave the house. Some dogs with separation anxiety will even use the bathroom indoors or pee and poop in his crate, or they may refuse to eat. A few dogs will even attempt to escape the house in an effort to find you. This can result in injury to your beloved pet.
Adding further difficulty to the situation is the fact that all the research that has been done in regards to separation anxiety still leaves pet parents with lots of questions. There is no rhyme or reason as to why some dogs experience separation anxiety while others never do. Furthermore, you may have to experience several episodes of returning home to see that your dog has destroyed something or has relieved himself on the floor before you realize your dog is experiencing separation anxiety. Pet parents have even had to set up cameras in the home to confirm the negative behavior.
This behavior can be caused by a number of things. Dogs that have issues with hearing may exhibit separation anxiety, but most often, dogs with separation anxiety have been abandoned in the past or have possibly been given up by previous owners to a new family. Some dogs will develop separation anxiety when there are major schedule changes around your home. In addition, dogs of pet parents who are away from home for long hours at a time may develop separation anxiety. Unfortunately, dogs that have typically been happy to spend a little time napping while you’re away may also eventually develop separation anxiety.
Some instances of separation anxiety have been reported after pet parents went back to work after the initial COVID mandates for staying at home were removed. This is often where most pets had been used to their pet parents or guardians going to work on a certain schedule, they were home due to business shut-downs, then returned to work once mandates were lifted. Of course, this can be explained by the changes in schedule that many pet parents underwent during an unprecedented time in our nation.
Certain breeds are more prone to developing separation anxiety than others. The Labrador Retriever, the German Shepherd, and the Bichon Frise are most likely to develop separation anxiety. However, the Vizla, the Jack Russell Terrier, and the Border Collie are also prone to this issue. Why do these breeds tend to have more issues with separation anxiety than others? Let’s take a look at the personalities of these breeds for a possible explanation.
The Labrador Retriever is a companion dog by design . These dogs are working dogs, but their “job” often requires interaction with human handlers in order to carry out their “work.” Typically, the Lab is a perfect family dog, and they are usually rather laid-back in their temperament, but if they are left alone or away from their pet parents for a long while (even just a few hours), the Lab can become destructive.
The Border Collie is also a working dog that depends upon human interaction to fully do his work. He is also quite social, just like the Lab. However, the Border Collie has one positive characteristic that can actually lead to bad behavior— the breed is one of the most intelligent dogs to date. When the Border Collie is bored, he is even more prone to separation anxiety.
The Jack Russell Terrier is also a great companion dog, and she is also highly intelligent. In addition to these positive qualities, the Jack Russell Terrier is also very, very energetic. Put together the high energy level as well as the high intelligence factor, and the Jack Russell Terrier that becomes bored could become quite destructive without the interaction of her pet parents.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Many of these breeds are companion dogs, very smart, and highly energetic. Therefore, that can lead us to some ways that we can correct bad behavior associated with separation anxiety . Separation anxiety can be detrimental to your dog’s mental and physical health, and, when it manifests in destructive behavior, it can affect your relationship with your dog. However, there are ways to help your pup deal with separation anxiety.
Treating your dog’s separation anxiety depends on the severity of your dog’s condition. Some dogs will only exhibit mild symptoms of separation anxiety while others may have a major problem. If your dog has a mild case of separation anxiety, then you can take a few easy steps to help combat the problem. Leave some clothing or other items which have your scent near your dog’s bedding area in order to comfort him while you’re away. Also, you can develop a word you use around your pup that will signal to him you’re stepping out but will return. We’ll look at this method shortly.
Looking at the breeds chiefly affected by separation anxiety, there is a method for combating the issue that is so simple it seems as if it shouldn’t work— but it does.
What’s the Solution?
Keep your dog physically active when you are home. There’s an old saying— tired dogs are happy dogs. Guess what? This is true! Dogs that were bred to work alongside humans are happiest when they have accomplished a day’s work beside their human companions. Of course, most of us won’t be taking our Border Collie out to round up livestock, but there are things you can do to wear your dog down so that he can rest when you are away.
1. Take him on long walks.
Each of the dog breeds mentioned previously needs a great deal of exercise. All dogs should be walked between fifteen minutes to thirty minutes per day just to keep them healthy. However, the “working” dogs, the high-energy dog breeds, need almost an hour of daily walking in order to be healthy and happy. You can break this up into two thirty-minute walks per day, or four fifteen-minute walks. In addition to physical (and mental) health benefits, your working dog will enjoy the time spent with you. Be sure to leash train your pup first, before taking him out.
2. Give him at least an hour of play per day.
There are many, many activities you can involve Fido in that don’t have to be a long walk. Play tug of war, throw a (doggy) Frisbee or take Fido for a swim (that is a great activity for Labrador Retrievers). If you have a fenced-in backyard (or a dog yard that is protected by a wireless dog fence), you can combat separation anxiety by letting Fido out in your backyard while you’re away (of course, you can’t do this during inclement or very hot or cold weather, but you can give Fido physical activity in other ways). Even a game of fetch is great to wear Fido down so that he won’t engage in negative, destructive behavior while you’re away.
3. Take your dog to the dog park.
A dog park is a great place to socialize your puppy. The dog park also offers lots of opportunities for energetic pups to play. You may see an obstacle course set up for dogs (sometimes this is referred to as an agility course). There’s also typically a track for walking your dog (a great place to take that hour-long walk, especially if you don’t have another place to walk your dog). Just an hour at the dog park will typically wear down an energetic pup so that he won’t be so anxious while you’re away.
4. Make your own backyard dog park.
If you have the room to do so, you can create your own agility course for Fido in your backyard! You can set up weaving poles, a tunnel, and an A-frame climbing obstacle in your own backyard. Even on a budget, you can make a sandpit for digging (great idea for Jack Russell Terriers – they love to dig by nature!) or you can purchase a hard plastic kiddie pool for Fido to play in the water. Use PVC pipe to set up a tug-of-war toy.
A word to the wise – you’ll want to make sure your backyard is protected with a fence – either invisible or a GPS dog fence, or a physical one.
Let’s talk about one final way to prevent separation anxiety. Providing a the best dog crate while you are away can help a dog deal with your absence, especially if you work long hours. Now, with that said, it’s going to be a little tricky to crate an adult dog that has never been crate trained. It can be done, but it will take some time to get your adult dog trained.
Crate training a puppy will help to prevent separation anxiety. Your young dog will begin to see the crate as a place of security, and, while you are away at work or running errands, you can rest assured that Fido is safe and happy— and not destroying your furniture or home while you are working.
1. Can separation anxiety in dogs be cured?
While I’m a tad reluctant to use the term “cured,” separation anxiety can be treated and even prevented with the right approach. Crate training a puppy can help the dog to feel safe in a crate while you’re away, and a fenced-in backyard can be a great way to keep dogs from acting out due to separation anxiety.
However, if you notice your dog begins to show signs of separation anxiety, you can implement ways to keep him from manifesting the anxiety into destruction and unnecessary physical stress for herself. Give your highly energetic dog a lot of physical activity (remember – tired dogs are happy dogs!). Spend time playing with your high-energy, high-intelligence dog.
If all else fails, you may need to discontinue any big showing of emotion when you leave or return home. Some pet parents will train their dog to recognize a word that they associate with the pet parents returning home. Other pet parents will save a special treat for Fido and give it to him only when they are about to leave the house.
2. What causes separation anxiety in dogs?
There are many causes for separation anxiety in dogs, from abrupt changes in your schedule to simply the dog’s own temperament lends to becoming bored easily. Rest assured knowing that most instances of separation anxiety happen due to no fault in the owner.
3. Should you crate a dog with separation anxiety?
Crate training a dog is a great way to prevent separation anxiety. However, crating an adult dog without properly acclimating him to the crate can backfire. If you wish to crate an adult dog with separation anxiety, you’ll need to commit to training him first.
4. Where should a dog with separation anxiety sleep?
This depends. If you have the dog crate trained, he may find the most security in his crate. However, if your dog has always rested on “his” bed, then you don’t want to abruptly stop this.
Although there are some instances of separation anxiety when pet parents are sleeping, this is not the norm. Most destructive behavior due to separation anxiety takes place when you are away from home, not during sleeping hours.