Separation anxiety is common in puppies and rescue dogs that have been abused or abandoned in the past. However, separation anxiety behaviors can even appear in adult dogs with relatively normal upbringings too. If you suspect your dog has separation anxiety or isolation distress (there’s a difference between the two!) then here are a few ways to humanely handle the problem:
Separation Anxiety vs. Isolation Distress
If you think your dog has separation anxiety, then they likely already exhibit a number of destructive or annoying behaviors while you’re away. In mild cases of separation anxiety, this might include whining, occasional barking, light chewing, and peeing on the floor by the door. In more severe cases, you might be dealing with a dog barking nonstop while you’re gone, defecating around the house, and destroying furniture or other items in your home in an attempt to relieve stress and/or escape.
However, some dogs may not feel stressed when you leave; they’re only stressed when they’re left entirely by themselves. In cases of isolation distress, your dog might exhibit similar behaviors as a dog with separation anxiety, but as long as there is another animal or human around, they’re mostly calm and happy.
Dog Shock Collars Won’t Help
Regardless of whether your dog has separation anxiety or isolation distress, resorting to shock collars to curb their barking and howling likely won’t solve the problem. There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the use of shock collars for dogs, but dog behaviorists generally agree that positive reinforcement is better than negative punishments (which is especially true for anxious dogs!).
Mixed Results on Dog Pheromone Products
Anti-anxiety aromatherapies, or dog pheromone products, have produced mixed results for dog owners. You’ll find some owners who swear by them, but don’t believe everything you read in online product reviews because those may not be real customers writing them. This isn’t to say dog pheromone products are ineffective – in instances where they do work, the dog generally does not have aggression issues or severe anxiety. If you’re considering trying dog pheromone products, then start with a relatively inexpensive item from the Amazon pet section to minimize the cost risk involved.
For the longest time, I thought my dog had separation anxiety. She barked nonstop for hours (which led to noise complaints), and our calming pet treats and pet monitoring camera with two-way audio (which we used to beg her, “be quiet”) were proving ineffective. While crate training was showing tiny, though steady signs of progress, we still needed a solution so we could move on with our busy lives without worrying about her. That’s what brought us to doggy daycare.
After Luna’s first three days of doggy daycare, she was so excited to return each morning that she practically dragged me through the front door and eagerly left me behind when a daycare attendant came to take her back with the other dogs. This behavior was what led me to research different types of separation anxiety, which led me to the lesser-known phenomenon of isolation distress. If you suspect your dog might have isolation distress instead of separation anxiety and they get along with other dogs, then doggy daycare could be a fantastic solution to the destructive behavior.
Crate Training Tips
Sometimes crate training can work wonders for dogs with separation anxiety or isolation distress. The objective in crate training is providing your dog with a safe space where they can relax and feel calm even if their owners aren’t in the room or home at all. To teach your dog that their crate is the happiest place in your home, invest in some fun dog toys that are only accessible when your dog is in their crate. Some owners opt to feed their dogs and give them treats, bones, and other goodies only when they’re in their crate.
My dog had such severe isolation distress when we first rescued her that we could barely leave her alone in her crate with the bedroom door closed without her crying. We were ultimately able to help her cope with being alone with a lot of patience and simple training exercises (closing and opening the bedroom door countless times to assure her we were coming back, with increasing time durations to build her tolerance for isolation).
Does Your Dog Need Doggy Prozac?
Believe it or not, Prozac can be prescribed to dogs and it’s estimated that nearly 3 million dogs are actively medicated for anxiety-related behavioral issues. You need a veterinarian’s approval before putting your dog on more serious medications, but many dog owners have praised canine behavioral pharmacology advancements that have opened up new opportunities for severely anxious dogs to live calmer, happier lives.
If you’ve genuinely exhausted every possible solution for your dog’s separation anxiety or isolation distress, then speaking with a canine behaviorist or veterinarian to discuss more effective options would be a great idea.
Do your dogs have separation anxiety or isolation distress? Share with us in the comments section some of your tips for reducing destructive behaviors and promoting calmness.