Helping your pup cope: Understanding and addressing Separation Anxiety

For some pets, the absence of their pet parents might trigger a behavioural condition termed ‘separation anxiety’.


People expect dogs to just accept being left on their own when it is quite an alien feeling to them as a species. Understanding and recognizing separation anxiety in dogs will prepare you to do all you can to prevent the condition as well as to address it at the first signs.

Learning the basics

Separation anxiety (SA) is a common behavioural issue that many pet parents face. It can be distressing for both the pet and the pet parent, leading to destructive behaviour, excessive barking, and other undesirable actions. Dogs are inherently social animals, which is what makes them great pets and prone to separation anxiety.

Dogs of any breed and any age can develop separation anxiety. And it can become serious if you don’t address it immediately.

Separation anxiety may get triggered when pets are separated from the person they love or when the following situations come into play –

  • Change of ownership: When a pet is abandoned by the side of the road, surrendered to a shelter, or transferred to a new pet parent, he may end up developing separation anxiety.
  • Loss of a family member: The sudden absence of a favourite human—whether divorce, death, or going away for education/ work in the home can trigger separation anxiety in pets.
  • New schedule: A change in your work or volunteer schedule may alter the length of time your pet is alone at home which may lead to separation anxiety.
  • New home: Moving to a different home with new smells and new sounds in a different neighbourhood can also cause separation anxiety in pets.
  • Advanced age and cognitive decline: Is your pet old enough to sport a grizzled muzzle and cloudy eyes? Does he have a hard time hearing than he did as a pup? He also may be experiencing cognitive changes that trigger separation anxiety.

Recognizing signs in our furry friends

Your pet can exhibit stress in many ways, so there is no one defining sign of separation anxiety. Instead, there are a variety of symptoms. One or two of them, especially if they only happen occasionally, may not be a sign of separation anxiety. But if your furry friend shows multiple symptoms regularly, they may be suffering from separation anxiety and it is advised that you should consult your vet.

Keep an eye out for these signs and symptoms –

  • Anxious behaviours like pacing, whining, or trembling while you’re gone or as you prepare to leave.
  • Excessive barking or howling
  • Destructive acts, such as chewing or digging, particularly around doors or windows.
  • Accidents in the house – urinating or defecating.
  • Excessive salivation, drooling, or panting.
  • Desperate and prolonged attempts to escape confinement, potentially ending in serious injury.

What not to do for separation stress?

Never scold or punish your pet for exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, even if those signs include destructive behaviours. Anxious behaviours are not the result of disobedience or spite. They are distress responses. Your beloved pet displays anxious behaviours when he’s alone because he’s upset and trying to cope with a great deal of stress. If you punish him, he may become even more upset and the problem could get worse.

Caring connections – ways to ease separation anxiety

  • Gradual departures and arrivals: Practice leaving and returning gradually. Start with short periods and gradually increase the time your pet spends alone. This helps desensitize him to your comings and goings.
  • Create a safe space: Designate a specific area in your home as a safe and comfortable space for your furry friend. This could be a cozy bed or a crate with his favorite toys.
  • Interactive toys and puzzles: Provide your pet with toys that can keep them mentally stimulated in your absence. Puzzle toys and treat dispensers are excellent options to keep him occupied.
  • Establish a routine: Dogs thrive on routine, so try to establish a consistent daily schedule for your pet. This includes regular feeding times, walks, and play sessions.
  • Training and desensitization: Work on basic obedience commands and gradually increase the time your pet spends alone. Reward calm behaviour and ignore anxious behaviour to reinforce positive habits.
  • Seek professional help: If your pet’s separation anxiety is severe, consider seeking the assistance of a professional dog trainer or behaviourist. They can provide personalized advice and training techniques tailored to your beloved pet’s specific needs.

Armour up against anxiety

Separation anxiety isn’t always preventable, despite your best efforts. And once it has taken hold, it can be a complicated process to treat. While it may be heartbreaking to see your furry friend anguished, it is necessary to ignore unwanted behaviour. Nevertheless, it is also equally important to reward your pooch when you notice success. It is best to leave your pet when he has had his share of exercise and food. This will keep him stimulated or tired enough to take a nap in your absence.

Separation anxiety in pets is common these days. However, if you find that leaving your pooch alone is becoming increasingly difficult, contact your vet or a dog behaviourist to assist you. By addressing the root causes and implementing positive training techniques, you can help your pet feel more secure when left alone and strengthen the bond between you and your canine companion.

(Dr Vivek – M.V.Sc (Department of Veterinary Medicine); Dr Ritik – MVSc Scholar; Dr Pooja – PhD Scholar; and Dr Shivika – (MVSc Scholar , Department of Veterinary Medicine) Lala Lajpat Rai University of Veterinary and Animal Science, Hisar Haryana)