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You grab your keys to walk out the door, and your dog starts going berserk – whining, barking, pacing. Does this sound familiar? If so, your pooch may be suffering from German Shepherd separation anxiety.
While destructive or mischievous behavior is a common complaint among pet parents when they leave their pups at home alone, many dogs may actually be experiencing extreme distress.
We all want our dogs to be healthy and happy, even when we’re away. So, this article addresses the issue of separation anxiety – from the causes of separation anxiety to basic symptoms to watch for, to tips that help your dog deal with their anxiety.
What is separation anxiety in dogs?
Separation anxiety is more than just whining or being a bit naughty and mischievous while you’re away. It’s a serious condition that occurs when a dog is overly attached to its owner and gets super stressed and anxious when left alone.
Why is separation anxiety so serious?
Aside from the emotional impact on your furry pal, extreme separation anxiety could cause injury to your dog or result in the destruction of your household.
This is especially common when your pup tries to escape, clawing at windows or attempting to chew through doors. And if your dog does manage to get out, that poses a whole new list of safety concerns!
Breeds prone to separation anxiety
If you’re a German Shepherd parent, you probably already know that this breed can be extra clingy. In general, high-energy working dogs or dogs bred specifically as companions are more likely to experience anxiety when left alone.
Some of the most common breeds that are prone to separation anxiety include:
- German Shepherd
- Labrador Retriever
- Border Collie
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Australian Shepherd
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- Bichon Frise
- Toy Poodle
- Cocker Spaniel
Why do dogs have separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can be triggered for many different reasons, but generally, it happens when dogs become upset because they’re separated from the people they’re attached to.
They become agitated as their “person” prepares to leave the house, even before they actually walk out the door. Some dogs even try to prevent their person from leaving!
This all stems from underlying anxiety or fear of being left alone or without their person.
Here are a few other events that could lead to the symptoms of separation anxiety in your dog:
- Change of pet parent (if a dog is rehomed, for example)
- Disruption of their typical schedule or routine
- Moving to a new home
- Death of a family member (human or pet)
- First time being left alone
- A traumatic event
While there are many different causes of separation anxiety, it’s important to remember that your dog isn’t trying to punish you – they just want you to come home! It’s a panic response, not malicious or deliberate behavior.
So, if you think your dog might have separation anxiety, be as patient as possible and work through the problem with compassion and understanding.
I have some proven techniques to help you overcome your dog’s stress – and ease your own stress as well! But first, let’s determine if your German Shepherd is actually suffering from separation anxiety.
How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?
It’s very easy to misdiagnose separation anxiety in your dog. Maybe your dog potties in the house, even though she’s potty trained – but did you leave her home alone longer than normal? Or could she be having a medical problem, such as a bladder infection?
Maybe your pup decides to chew through the door while you’re away – but is she just exhibiting normal puppy behavior?
To help you decide if your dog has separation anxiety, I’ve compiled a list of common symptoms, as well as some behaviors that people often mistake for separation anxiety.
Common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs:
- Excessive barking, howling, or whining
- Uncontrollable shivering
- Escape attempts
- Drooling or panting more than usual
- Chewing or digging
- Having accidents in the house (despite being potty trained)
- Frantic greetings when you return
Common symptoms people mistake for separation anxiety in dogs:
- Marking territory
- Difficult to potty train
- Destructive behavior
Tips to help prevent separation anxiety in dogs
I am very lucky that Allie doesn’t have separation anxiety. But it’s actually a lot more than just luck! In fact, I worked very hard at implementing the following techniques when she was just a puppy to try to prevent any fear or anxiety when I was away – and it worked!
If you start early with these same tips, it should help you curb your own dog’s separation anxiety as well.
Here are my tips for preventing separation anxiety in dogs:
- Never make your leaving a big deal. Likewise, never make your coming home a big deal. Once your dog figures out that this is just a normal part of the routine, they’ll feel more comfortable at home alone.
- Leave your pup something to keep them occupied when you leave. A Kong stuffed full of peanut butter works wonders! For more durable and entertaining chew toy ideas, check out this article.
- Make sure your dog is tired when you leave the house. Try going for a nice, long walk right before you leave. Or if you have a really high-energy pup (like most German Shepherds!), opt for an exhausting game of fetch. A tired dog has less energy to be stressed out when you leave.
- Consider hiring someone to watch your dog during the day. If you work a typical 8-hour day, then your dog may be experiencing separation anxiety because they’re home alone for such a long time. Since dogs don’t experience time in the same way we do, 8 hours can feel like forever! Having someone watch your dog can remedy this problem. Or you could even hire a dog walker for an hour or so just to break up the monotony.
- Similar to the suggestion above, you can also try putting your dog in daycare if you’re regularly away from home for extended periods of time.
- Teach your dog to be comfortable being alone. To do this, prepare a spot for your dog that’s all its own – whether it’s a crate, dog bed, or special corner in a room of the house. Get them comfortable with being left in their special place for short periods of time. Gradually increase the length of time until your dog’s anxiety and fear go away.
- Try reaching out to a behavior professional to make sure you’re on the right path and doing your part to ease your dog’s anxiety.
If none of these tips work, consult your vet. Your dog may have an imbalance that is causing anxiety, and your vet can recommend medication options to help your dog cope.
What not to do when dealing with separation anxiety in dogs
There are also some things you should NOT do when it comes to dealing with your dog’s separation anxiety. These include:
- Punishing your dog as you’re leaving or when you get home
- Getting another dog to keep your dog company
- Leaving the TV or radio on for background noise
While some of these actions just won’t help, some can even make the situation worse. So, stick to the tips I recommend to see the best results.
As I mentioned before, German Shepherds are very clingy by nature, and Allie is no exception to this rule. She loves being around me and will follow me around the house when I’m home.
But she also has no problem with me leaving her anywhere with just about anybody. Sure, she’d rather be with her mom, but she’s fine without me, too.
The key is to get to know your individual dog. Anytime Allie is extra needy or literally in my lap at all times, I know something is up (it usually turns out to be a stink bug in the house – she hates those things!). But it took me time to learn her normal behavior patterns.
Pay attention to your four-legged family member. While a little German Shepherd clinginess probably isn’t separation anxiety, if it escalates into something more, then you need to take action.
If you have any tips or tricks that helped you deal with your German Shepherd’s separation anxiety, please share!