Tricolored austrailian shepard looking out window for owner

Separation Anxiety in Rescue Dogs: Symptoms and Solutions

Last updated on December 17th, 2023 at 08:45 pm

    Separation anxiety in rescue dogs is a common issue that many new owners face when welcoming their furry friend into their homes. It is essential to understand and address this concern because unmanaged anxiety can lead to stress and behavioral problems. As rescue dogs often have a history of loss, abandonment, or neglect, they can be prone to experiencing separation anxiety when left alone or separated from their primary caregiver.

    Understanding the root causes of separation anxiety in rescue dogs can play a crucial role in providing care and support, in addition to noting the outward signs of the condition. Empathy, patience, and a tailored approach will be paramount in guiding both the owner and the dog through the process of overcoming separation anxiety, strengthening the bond between them, and promoting overall wellbeing.

    Key Takeaways

    • Separation anxiety is common in rescue dogs and needs to be addressed for their well-being.
    • Identifying and understanding the underlying causes can help provide effective support.
    • Patience, empathy, and customized training, paired with a supportive environment, can ease separation anxiety in rescue dogs.
    Read more: Separation Anxiety in Rescue Dogs: Symptoms and Solutions

    Understanding Separation Anxiety

    Rescue Dogs Can Be More Prone to Separation Anxiety Following Adoption

    My tan dog Charlotte looking anxious about being separated from me.
    Charlotte pleads, “Please don’t leave me!”

    Many newly adopted dogs are terrified of being in a new environment. They don’t know what to expect and may harbor fear from past experiences. Your new shelter dog may cling to you initially in an attempt to feel safe. My two rescue dogs followed me around the house from room to room for several weeks after I brought them home.

    Taking them to day care or to the groomers was also very anxiety producing, especially for Charlotte who became stressed more easily. When I dropped her off at doggy day care the first time, she turned around and looked at me in terror. Next she grabbed my sleeve with her teeth to keep me from leaving. This really broke my heart as it was most likely a result of being abandoned at a shelter. I made other arrangements until she felt more secure.

    Keep in mind that you are your dog’s entire world. You have friends, family, work, but your sweet, furry pal only has you. So, it is no surprise that your dog might get anxious when separated from you

    Signs and Symptoms

    When you observe your rescue dog displaying symptoms such as destructive behavior, excessive barking, or attempting to escape when left alone, these could be signs of separation anxiety. It’s vital for pet parents to identify these early for the well-being of both the dog and the owner. Common signs of separation anxiety in rescue dogs include:

    • Excessive barking or howling when left alone
    • Destroying furniture or other household items
    • Pacing or panting
    • Urinating or defecating indoors
    • Escape attempts

    By recognizing these signs, you’ll be better equipped to address your dog’s stress.

    Causes of Anxiety

    There could be numerous factors contributing to your rescue dog’s anxiety. Many of these dogs have experienced several homes and previous owners, which could result in the development of anxious behavior. The possible causes of anxiety in rescue dogs are:

    1. Lack of stability and routine
    2. Negative experiences from past homes
    3. Fear of abandonment due to previous rehoming
    4. Genetic predisposition to anxiety
    5. Medical conditions causing discomfort

    Understanding the potential causes of your dog’s anxiety will help you create an appropriate plan to manage their stress and build a trusting relationship.

    Impacts on Dog Behavior

    True separation anxiety can significantly impact a dog’s behavior, both when you’re at home and when you’re away. If you’re not attentive to your dog’s needs, these behavioral changes could result in long-term issues. Some of the potential impacts of separation anxiety include:

    • A decrease in overall confidence and independence
    • Development or exacerbation of other anxieties and fears
    • Strained relationships with other animals or people in the home
    • Potential harm to themselves due to escape attempts or destructive behavior

    By gaining a comprehensive understanding of separation anxiety, you can make informed decisions to support your rescue dog’s mental health and ensure a harmonious relationship with your newfound companion.

    Assessing Your Rescue Dog’s Anxiety

    Bringing home a rescue or shelter dog can be an extremely rewarding experience. However, one issue that is frequently encountered with these pets is separation anxiety. In this section, we will help you understand the levels of separation anxiety and the importance of getting a professional diagnosis.

    Levels of Separation Anxiety

    Separation anxiety in rescue dogs can range from mild to severe, and it is crucial to recognize the first signs of your pet’s anxious responses. Identifying their anxiety level is vital to provide the appropriate care and treatment.

    • Mild anxiety: Your dog might show signs of restlessness, pacing, or vocalizing when left alone.
    • Moderate anxiety: In addition to the mild symptoms, your pet may display more distressed behavior such as excessive barking or howling, and even destructive behaviors like chewing or scratching at doors and windows.
    • Severe anxiety: This is the most extreme level, where your rescue dog might have panic attacks, cause injury to themselves, or have accidents indoors despite being housebroken.

    Remember, each dog is unique, and the intensity of their separation anxiety may vary greatly.

    Professional Diagnosis

    If you suspect that your rescue dog is suffering from separation anxiety, seeking the help of a professional is crucial for determining the best course of action. Consulting with a certified applied animal behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist will provide you with a thorough understanding of your pet’s anxiety levels and ensure that you’re equipped to manage their condition effectively.

    A professional assessment will involve examining your dog’s behavior, medical history, and the environment in which they live. This will help the behaviorist or veterinarian develop a tailored treatment plan to improve your dog’s well-being and ease their anxious responses.

    Remember that assessing your rescue dog’s anxiety is a crucial step in helping them overcome these initial challenges and ensuring they have a smooth transition into your home. Recognizing the severity of their anxiety and enlisting the help of professionals will provide the guidance required to effectively manage and treat their condition.

    Effective Training Techniques

    Crate Training and Safe Spaces

    Crate training is an essential component in addressing your rescue dog’s separation anxiety. By establishing a comfortable and secure environment, you are helping your dog feel safer and more relaxed when you are away. Begin by introducing the crate as a positive space for your dog to retreat to when they are feeling anxious. It’s important to make the crate inviting by adding blankets, toys, and treats.

    1. Start with short sessions in the crate
    2. Gradually increase the length of time your dog spends in the crate
    3. Ensure your dog has access to toys and treats for mental stimulation

    Remember, proper crate training should never feel like punishment to your dog. It’s crucial to maintain a positive association with the crate and give plenty of praise for spending time in there.

    Desensitization and Counterconditioning

    Desensitization and counterconditioning are important behavior modification techniques for managing your dog’s separation anxiety. Desensitization involves gradually exposing your dog to the feared situation (you leaving) in small increments, while counterconditioning focuses on changing your dog’s emotional response towards that situation.

    • Desensitization:
      • Start by just touching your keys or putting on your shoes, then reward your dog for remaining calm
      • Progress to going to the door and opening it, but not leaving
      • Gradually increase the duration of your “absences”
    • Counterconditioning:
      • Provide special treats or engaging toys only when you’re about to leave, and remove them when you return
      • This helps build positive associations with your departure

    Follow these steps for a more structured training program to reduce your dog’s separation anxiety.

    Building Independence

    Helping your dog develop a sense of independence is a key aspect of separation training. By encouraging your dog’s self-confidence, you minimize their reliance on your presence for comfort. Gradually increase your time apart to help your dog become more comfortable with alone time.

    • Begin with brief periods of separation in the same room
    • Create barriers, such as baby gates, to create some distance between you and your dog
    • Slowly progress to leaving your dog alone in a separate room for longer periods of time

    Remember that consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement are essential when dealing with canine separation anxiety. By following these effective training techniques, you’ll be on your way to helping your rescue dog overcome their separation anxiety and live a happier, more relaxed life.

    Creating a Supportive Environment

    Toys and Mental Engagement

    Colorful box of dirty dog toys that need to be washed!

    Providing your rescue dog with a variety of toys can help keep their mind engaged and reduce stress. Puzzle toys are especially beneficial, as they challenge your dog’s problem-solving skills while rewarding them with treats. For example, you can fill a puzzle toy with peanut butter and let your dog work to get it out. This not only gives them mental stimulation but also keeps them busy when you are away. Don’t forget to include a favorite toy as well, which can serve as a comforting item in their new environment.

    Physical Activity and Routine

    Regular physical exercise is crucial for maintaining your rescue dog’s overall wellbeing and helping to lower anxiety levels. Establishing a routine can provide a sense of predictability, which is essential for a rescue dog who may have previously faced an unstable living situation. Create a daily schedule that covers:

    • Morning walks
    • Feeding times
    • Playtime
    • Evening walks
    • Bedtime

    Dealing with Departures and Returns

    One of the main challenges when managing separation anxiety is handling departures and returns. Try to create a safe place for your dog, such as a special room or designated area where they can feel secure and comfortable. Here are some tips to help you and your pet cope with these moments:

    1. Departure cues: Desensitize your dog to common departure cues like grabbing your keys or putting on your coat. Do these actions randomly throughout the day without actually leaving to break the association between these cues and your absence.
    2. Gradual departures: Start by leaving your dog alone for short periods and slowly increase the duration as they become more comfortable. This allows them to gradually adjust to being alone.
    3. Low-key exits and entrances: Minimize the excitement around your departure or return. Keep things calm when you leave and come back to reduce your dog’s anxiety levels.

    By addressing these key areas, you can create a supportive environment that significantly reduces your rescue dog’s separation anxiety and helps them adjust to their new life.

    How I Learned to Manage My Rescue Dogs’ Separation Anxiety

    After my own experience and through tips from trainers, here are some things I learned to manage separation fears:

    • Keep the goodbye short and quick when dropping them off or leaving them at home.
    • Say the same short goodbye phrase to them each time. I always say, “I’ll be back!”
    • If leaving them overnight, take their bed if possible and a familiar toy or your socks or something that smells like you.
    • Don’t scold your dogs, but also don’t coddle them or prolong the goodbye.
    • Make everything seem normal, and not like a big deal when leaving or coming back.
    • Make sure your dogs have everything they need at the kennel or when you are gone such as access to a place to potty, fresh water, some form of entertainment, and a safe environment.
    • Check in with your own feelings. Dogs can pick up on our emotions and react to them.
    • If the anxiety is severe, consider taking your dog to a vet or a good behavioral trainer. Kendall Curry posted a great article on PetMed, August 2, 2019, How to Help Your Dog with Separation Anxiety.

    I discovered that newly adopted dogs should not be boarded for at least three months after adoption. This gives them a chance to settle and feel more secure. And if possible, it is best to get a house sitter or family member to stay with them if at all possible. This will help reduce their panic and anxiety about being abandoned. See my post, “How Soon Can You Board a Rescue Dog After Adoption? for more information about this.

    Additional Strategies and Considerations

    Medications and Alternative Therapies

    While working with your new rescue dog on their separation anxiety, you may want to consider exploring both medications and alternative therapies. Some dogs may benefit from anti-anxiety medication, which can help them cope with stress and anxiety more effectively while you work on training.

    Be sure to consult your veterinarian for the best treatment options and to rule out any underlying medical issues that could be contributing to their anxiety. Alternative therapies such as dog pheromones and calming supplements might also provide relief.

    Finding the Right Support

    Dealing with separation anxiety in rescue dogs can be challenging, and seeking the help of a certified professional dog trainer is often beneficial. Since rescue dogs are social animals, they may need special guidance in coping with their anxiety. A professional trainer can assess your dog’s behavioral issues and develop a personalized training plan to help them adjust. Additionally, dog trainers and support groups can provide you with valuable tips and resources to better understand and manage your dog’s separation anxiety.

    Common Mistakes to Avoid

    • Skipping the training steps: Do not rush through the training process; each step is vital in helping your dog build confidence and overcome their anxiety. Gradually increase the time you spend away from your dog to help them feel secure.
    • Failing to address underlying medical issues: Always consult your veterinarian before implementing any training or medication plans, as there may be underlying medical issues contributing to your dog’s anxiety.
    • Inconsistency in routines and training: Dogs thrive on routine and consistency. Stick to a set routine when leaving and returning home, as well as training schedules, to help your dog better adapt to your absence.
    • Providing too much attention before departure: Showering your dog with affection right before leaving can make their anxiety worse. Instead, give them a calm, low-key goodbye.

    Remember, patience, consistency, and professional advice are key when working with a rescue dog experiencing separation anxiety.

    Final Thoughts

    Adopting a rescue dog can be a wonderful and life-changing experience. However, it’s essential to acknowledge and address the possibility of separation anxiety in your new furry companion. By understanding the causes of separation anxiety and being equipped with helpful strategies to alleviate their stress, you can help your rescue dog adjust to their new home with ease.

    Some key steps to consider when dealing with separation anxiety in rescue dogs are:

    • Gradual desensitization: Slowly increase the time you spend away from your pet, and make your departures and arrivals low-key, so they become less anxiety-inducing.
    • Establish a routine: Dogs thrive on consistency. Provide a consistent daily schedule for walks, meals, and playtime to create a sense of stability for your pet.
    • Mental and physical stimulation: A well-exercised dog is less likely to feel anxious. Ensure your rescue dog has enough physical activity and engaging toys during the day to keep them occupied and happy.

    When looking for solutions, it’s important to remember that each dog is unique, and what works for one might not work for all. Some dogs might benefit from anxiety medications or behavioral therapy, while others might simply need more playtime and attention. Remain patient and work closely with veterinarians and professional trainers as needed to ensure your rescue dog feels secure and loved in their new home.

    Brown and black bonded pair of dogs sleeping together
    At the end of the day all is well.

    The good news is that with time and patience, your new rescue dog can recover from separation anxiety. Dogs are amazingly resilient and new positive, experiences will eventually reassure your new pup that this is a safe, loving home.

    Be sure to see more about raising rescue dogs in my post, How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog.

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