Separation anxiety

Irish Red White Setter Looking Out Wiindow

Many dogs can become anxious when separated from their human family.

Anxiety is characterised by signs of distress that can include toileting in the house, destructiveness, excessive barking, digging or pacing and attempting to escape.

The goal of management and treatment is to teach the dog how to be calm and relaxed when you are absent, and this means making some adjustments to regular routines.  

Hints and tips

Changes in pet-owner interactions

Help your dog to become more independent and less anxious, by rewarding him/her for being calm and relaxed and ignoring attention-seeking behaviour.  

Changes in leaving and return routines

In an attempt to decrease anxiety levels prior to your departure, try to ignore your dog 15-30 minutes prior to leaving. Upon return, greet your dog softly, calmly and quietly, and attend to him/her only when she is calm and quiet.

Decreasing anxiety associated with departure

This involves changing how the dog perceives pre-departure cues, such as picking up car keys or packing a bag, and re-teaching the dog that the ‘routine’ no longer predicts departure. This helps prevent increased anxiety and is achieved through habituation, counter-conditioning and desensitisation.  

Environmental changes

Your dog should be provided with things ‘to do’. Exercising your dog’s mind and body can greatly enrich their life, decrease anxiety and provide them with plenty of opportunities to engage in normal dog behaviours.  

Exercise

Try to exercise your dog before you have to leave each day. Stonnington has 27 off-leash parks where you can take your dog to run and expend energy.

Just remember that you must have verbal control over your dog if you are going to let him/her off-leash, otherwise you can still exercise your dog on-leash at any of our 99 parks and reserves across the municipality.

Exercise should help him/her relax and rest while you’re gone. Take different routes and visit new places as often as possible so that your dog can experience novel smells and sights

If you can arrange for a reputable dog walker to exercise your dog during the middle of the day, this can help tire out dogs and reduce anxiety while they wait for you to return home.

Food and chew items

Fill Kong type toys with food that will take your dog at least 20-30 minutes to eat and try to give it to them shortly before you leave the home. This often distracts for enough time to prevent anxiety building up.

Tip: Try freezing the Kong and food before giving it to them. This will lengthen the time your dog is occupied while trying to get all the food out.  

You can also try hiding your dog’s food so they have to find it which can help engage and preoccupy them.

Play

Play fun, interactive games with your dog, such as fetch and tug-of-war, before you leave them alone.

See if any friends or family can visit your dog during the day while you’re not home, or research reputable doggy day care services in your area.  

For more severe cases of separation anxiety, it is recommended you discuss this directly with your vet. Your vet can either help you directly or they may offer referral to a behavioural specialist who uses humane reward-based training.  

For more tips visit the RSPCA website.