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What are the signs of separation anxiety in dogs and how do you fix it?

Separation anxiety is a crippling condition which is caused by your dog's phobia of you leaving or of being alone.

What causes separation anxiety in dogs?

The simple answer is... we don't know. But we do know that you won't have caused it. Certain breeds appear to be predisposed to separation anxiety, meaning there seems to be a genetic component to it. Breeds who were designed to be loyal hunters appear to be susceptible - but this doesn't mean they definitely will have it. In order to determine whether a dog has separation anxiety we need to look at symptoms, not breed.

What is separation anxiety?

Firstly, a dog who is showing undesirable behaviours when they are home alone is not a naughty dog, they should never ever be punished in any way when you return home. Separation anxiety is a phobia of you leaving or of being alone, so when they are left their behaviours are completely unconscious and as a result of sheer panic. For whatever reason, their brain has decided that alone time is actually very dangerous and there is intense need to escape it and to get to you ASAP. If they are punished when you return home you make the thought of you leaving even more terrifying, as they know when you get back they will be subjected to more fear.

What are the signs of separation anxiety in dogs?

Common behavioural signs are panting, pacing, salivating, vomiting, toileting, destruction, howling and crying. It is important to note that they do not have to display all of these behaviours to have separation anxiety, some dogs just do one consistently. However, some dogs may display no obvious signs at all and instead completely freeze out of fear. This is why watching your dog on camera when they are alone is so important; we can't ever know if a dog is coping with alone time if we aren't monitoring them during.

How do you treat it?

Firstly, separation anxiety cannot be properly treated quickly - it is a marathon and not a sprint. Anyone who tells you they can fix it in weeks is going to be using punishment to suppress your dog's behaviour. This might involve locking them in a crate and ignoring their calls, putting a bark collar on them to silence them, or worse.

Separation anxiety is a phobia, and the only effective and ethical way to treat a phobia is to gradually expose the patient to their fear at low levels. If you had a phobia of flying you would not treat it by jumping on a long haul flight for 8 hours. This is what punishment based treatments do to dogs with separation anxiety. This inflicts trauma and makes it worse. The way to treat a flight phobia would be to watch videos of airplanes, then build up to watching flights take off at the airport, then sitting in a flight simulator etc etc. This is how we treat separation anxiety. We work out how long your dog can cope with now, and then very gradually add on time - as long as your dog is coping okay with the current duration.

Can you really cure separation anxiety?

The good news is that separation anxiety can absolutely be cured when gradual exposure therapy is used. It is possible for dogs who can't cope for a single second to learn to cope for an hour without any worry. And believe it or not, the training is incredibly simple. Your dog doesn't have to perform any tricks, there is no food involved - you do everything and your dog does whatever they please during the training.

To learn more and finally start to get your old life back, check out my separation anxiety page -

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