How does your dog act when you leave them alone at home?
Are you looking for answers on how to treat Separation Anxiety in your dog?
If your dog is destroying your home and furniture…
If you have countless messages from neighbors complaining about your dog barking and howling for hours…
Or worse, your dog has physically injured themselves in your absence; you're likely dealing with a case of separation anxiety, or at best, isolation distress.
You're not alone…
I get a lot of emails from distressed owners at their witts end and genuinely concerned about their dogs.
In fact, this column, written by Barbara L. Sherman, states that Separation Anxiety is diagnosed in 20 to 40% of dogs that end up at behavior clinics.
The truth is there is no, “one size fits all” when it comes to treating separation anxiety.
But the more tools and knowledge you have at your disposal, the more likely you are to find a successful combination that will ease your pooch into being relaxed when you leave them alone.
So grab your favorite drink, kick off your shoes, and dive in…
What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Dr. Karen Overall, in her book “Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals” describes separation anxiety as;
A condition in which animals exhibit symptoms of anxiety or excessive distress when they are left alone.
The most common signs of separation anxiety are extreme vocalization, destructive behavior, and inappropriate toileting.
But that's not all. The following are also signs that your pooch is excessively anxious when left alone:
- Pacing and restlessness
- Whining and crying
- Jumping through open or closed windows
It's worth mentioning here that there is a milder form of panic which is much more common, known as Isolation Distress.
What's the difference Between Separation Anxiety and Isolation Distress?
A dog in the throes of separation anxiety is in a total state of panic because the person they are hyper-bonded to has left them. And they are unable to relax, even if other humans or pets are present.
Isolation distress means a dog doesn't particularly like being left alone. But will settle down if they have the company of another human or pet.
10 Possible Causes for Separation Anxiety in Dogs
If your dog has separation anxiety or less severe isolation distress, the first thing to remember it's not your fault.
Also, consider the fact that over thousands of years, we have bred our canine friends to live more closely alongside us than any other domesticated animal. So it stands to reason that your dog will form an attachment bond with you.
And although there has been a lot of research in this field, science has a mixed bag of opinions as to the causes…
Are Males or Females More Prone to Separation-Related Issues?
Whereas, this study found no link between the sex of a dog and the development of separation-related issues.
Can Sleeping Arrangements Cause Separation Anxiety?
Some researchers have found a significant difference in their study, depending on where the dog sleeps. Compared to all the control dogs in this study, 45% of dogs with separation-related issues slept on their owner's bed or a sofa.
This study, on the other hand, found that “spoiling activities” were not associated with separation anxiety.
Can a Dog's Place of Origin Cause Separation Anxiety?
This study found a significant connection between anxious dogs and their place of origin. 35% of the anxious dogs in this study came from shelters or were found abandoned. Compared to 0% in the control group.
To take things further, this study on 690 dogs in Australia found that dogs acquired from family or friends displayed lower scores for separation-related issues than dogs from pet shops.
And this study found no significant difference between pure or mixed-breed dogs. Or whether the dogs were bought from a breeder.
Of course, these findings shouldn't discourage you from opening your heart to a doggo from a rescue shelter. But it should discourage you from buying a dog from any pet shop.
Do Human Family Members Affect Separation Anxiety?
This study found that dogs from a single adult home were 2.5 times more likely to develop anxiety-related issues, compared to dogs that live in homes with multiple owners.
To complicate matters, even more…
This study found that 50% of the dogs that displayed anxiety-related problems lived with a couple vs. 10% living in a family with children.
And one study also found that separation-related issues increased with a higher number of human adult females in the home.
Does Free-Feeding Cause or Worsen Separation Anxiety?
Compared to the control group in this study (who did not have continuous access to food), 35% of the anxious dogs were free-fed with constant access to food available.
Which speaks to the importance of a feeding schedule for dogs.
Can Adoption Age Affect Separation Anxiety?
In this study, a high number (77%) of the control group were adopted in the ideal timeframe of between 60 and 90 days of age.
In the anxious group, late-age adoptions were higher, with 40% of the dogs in this group adopted after three months of age.
Does Early Separation from the Litter Affect Separation Anxiety?
This study found that early separation from littermates leads to a higher likelihood of problematic behaviors.
Destructiveness, excessive barking, reactivity to noises, fearfulness, and attention-seeking were behaviors noted in the group of dogs separated at between 30 and 40 days of age. This was especially prevalent in dogs acquired from pet shops.
Can Lack of Early Experiences Cause Separation Anxiety?
This study found that a wide range of social experiences between six and 12 months of age resulted in the absence of separation-related behavior.
Can a Change in Routine Cause Separation Anxiety?
The BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural
Medicine states that changing the feeding routine of a dog can cause stress when the rhythm is broken due to a change in routine. (Horwitz, D., Mills, D., Heath, S. (Eds.), BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural
Medicine. Gloucester, UK, p. 155)
Changes in your working schedule, the addition of a new family member or even moving house can spark separation-related issues in an otherwise calm dog.
Can Diet and Nutrition Affect Separation Anxiety?
You might be wondering what your dog's diet has to do with Separation Anxiety. And although there isn't a whole lot of scientific exploration in this area yet, just think about yourself for a second…
How do you feel when you've had too much sugar or coffee?
Cranky, wired, restless or even hyperactive is probably along the lines of how you'd feel. Right?
And it's no different for your pooch. What your dog eats has a direct effect on their Central Nervous system (CNS).
Dog food made from low-quality protein, filled with preservatives, chemicals, and sugars will have a negative effect on your dog's behavior.
Most commercial dog foods are filled with synthetic vitamins, minerals, and amino acids because the manufacturing process makes the food sterile. And just like your body has a hard time recognizing and using synthetic compounds, so does your dog's body.
In fact, this study concludes that the bioavailability and composition of compounds like Tryptophan and Tyrosine can impact the well-being and behavior of dogs, specifically under stress.
10 Common Myths About Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Myth #1 – A Dog That Destroys While You're Away is Spiteful
If your dog suffers from Separation Anxiety or Isolation distress and they are destroying, pooping or peeing inappropriately. Or worse, physically injuring themselves when you're away, they are by no means being spiteful.
I know it's tough NOT to think your pooch is thinking, “I'll show you!”
But, I'll go as far as saying that dogs are incapable of being spiteful.
A dog in the throes of Separation Anxiety is distressed and has a fear of being left alone without you. And the destruction they leave in their wake is out of pure panic.
Myth #2 – There's No Solution
You might have heard that some breeds of dogs are just more prone to Separation Anxiety and that nothing can be done. This is a common misconception and it's wrong.
While it's true that some breeds are genetically more nervous than others such as these breeds:
- Australian Shepherd
- Bichon Frise
- Border Collie
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- German Shepherd Dog
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Labrador Retriever
There's no truth to the myth that there's no solution.
But you've paid attention to the scientific data, and you already know that Separation Anxiety can happen in any dog.
If you suspect your dog suffers from Separation Anxiety, you'll be happy to know there are a host of effective tools and training methods you can use to prevent and manage Separation Anxiety. So keep reading…
Myth #3 – Bonding Closely with Your Dog will Cause Separation Anxiety
If you're wondering what the point of life is if you have to reign in on bonding with your dog – I hear you! And I agree.
To reference the earlier study cited where researchers found that “spoiling activities” did not contribute to Separation Anxiety developing.
And let's be honest, there's nothing as spoil-worthy for our dogs than catching a nap on our bed or sofa.
Although it's worth noting here that if your pooch already suffers from separation anxiety, you might have a harder time teaching them that it's safe to be alone if they are sleeping in your bed.
You could consider giving them their own safe space to sleep, initially right beside to your bed. And slowly move their bed further away until it's ideally outside your bedroom.
Myth #4 – Once You Manage Separation Anxiety it's Gone Forever
This is where a lot of well-meaning pooch parents get caught unaware. But the fact is that Separation Anxiety can rear its ugly head again in the future.
This is especially true when routines change. Think about things like moving house, a new baby, or a change in your working schedule.
Any life change or stressor that can potentially affect the routine of your dog can spark those separation-related issues.
But there's good news too…
Firstly, you know how to spot the signs of Separation Anxiety in your pooch so you'll catch them much quicker if they appear.
And secondly, you already know which management techniques your dog responds the best to, so you can implement them right away.
Myth #5 – Another Pet will Solve the Problem
Getting another dog or even a cat might seem like the perfect solution. And it would be if it were that simple.
But it's not…
Because Separation Anxiety is usually triggered because the dog is separated from the person they are hyper-bonded to. So, in this case, another pet will not likely solve the problem.
However, if your dog suffers from Isolation Distress, and settles down if there's another warm body (pet or human), you could consider getting another dog.
But before you go out and buy or adopt a new pet, borrow a well-balanced pooch from family or friends.
It's important that this dog is not anxious when left alone. The last thing you want is for your dog's anxiety to rub off on your houseguest.
Myth #6 – It's Just a Phase
My all-time favorite dog trainer says that dogs go through something called “fear phases” at certain times in their development. The first fear phase is from 8 to 10 weeks. And again from 6 to 14 months.
But Separation Anxiety is not a phase. And treating it as “just a phase” or ignoring it will not make it go away.
In fact, your dog will likely become more distressed and display more intense anxiety-related behaviors.
Teaching your dog that you will always return home is the only way to ease their distress and help them be calm when they are left alone.
Myth #7 – A Dog with Separation Anxiety Must Always be Crated When Left Alone
The idea to crate a dog suffering from Separation Anxiety sounds appealing. I mean it'll stop the destruction of furnishings and exits like doors and windows. Right?
But deciding on whether to crate a dog with separation anxiety should depend on the behaviors they exhibit.
A dog that freaks out if they are confined will try frantically to escape and will likely injure themselves. Some dogs will even chew at body parts to escape.
In this case, consider creating a den-like area where your dog feels safe. Dogs are den animals by nature and choose specific spots in their homes where they go to relax.
So watch your dog, if they like chilling in the laundry, or behind the sofa use that area to build them a nice cozy den.
For dogs who already love their crate, sleep there at night and don't mind being crated for short periods, their crate is a major advantage in this situation.
Myth #8 – Exercise Alone will Fix the Problem
Although exercise might help to tire your dog out before you leave home, it will not fix the problem.
Remember, Separation Anxiety is a physical response to fear and exercise will not remove the fear. Exercise should be paired with other treatments which we'll get to in the next section.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't give your dog the time to burn off excess energy before you leave. A game of fetch, a brisk walk or even a jog will do wonders to burn off an overflow of physical energy.
Myth #9 – It's Always Separation Anxiety
A few years ago when Lexi was still a puppy I mentioned to our vet that she's destroyed a bed while I was away from home.
Lexi tore her bed open and emptied out the stuffing and proceeded to shred the contents into teeny-tiny pieces. It looked like snow on my porch in the middle of summer!
My vet was sure Lexi had Separation Anxiety. But wasn't convinced. Lexi was a young puppy, only 16 weeks old at the time. In my opinion, she was doing what puppies do – getting up to mischief!
It was an age thing and a training issue, Lexi was still learning how to behave correctly.
The point is, not every destructive behavior is Separation Anxiety. If your dog is being destructive while they are alone, it might be worth setting up a camera so you can have a point of reference to determine what's going on.
If you see other anxiety-driven behaviors like excessive vocalization, drooling, pacing, excessive panting as well as the destructive behaviors, you might be dealing with Separation Anxiety.
And if the destruction is aimed at exit points like doors and windows, or your personal belongings, Separation Anxiety is a consideration.
But a pooch getting up to mischief due to a training or age issue is not Separation Anxiety.
Myth #10 – Ignoring your Dog Will Cure Separation Anxiety
Uh, totally not true!
Sure, keeping things “cool” by not making too much of a fuss when you leave and return home will help to keep your pooch's emotions at an equilibrium.
But imagine your significant other suddenly starts ignoring you like a stop sign when they leave or arrive home. Wouldn't that make you stressed and anxious?
Your dog is an expert at reading non-verbal cues. And if you totally blank them, there's a chance their anxiety will ramp up.
There's no reason to totally ignore your doggo. Just keep things calm at your coming and going times.
Is it Separation Anxiety or Boredom?
Now imagine for a moment, you are at home, alone and you're not allowed to do anything to keep yourself amused…
No hobbies, no screen-time, no internet, no Netflix, no lazing at the pool…
How bored would you be?
Yeah, I know, I'd be bored stiff too!
Well, it's the same for our dogs.
If we leave them with a tank full of energy and no way to release it, chalking any vocalization or destructive behavior up to Separation Anxiety would be a mistake.
If you're unsure whether the unwanted behavior is related to Separation Anxiety or boredom, set up a camera so you can watch a blow-by-blow replay.
How to Treat Separation Anxiety in a Dog
Your dog is afraid of being left alone – and you probably already know this is a pooch parent's worst nightmare!
It's life-changing, it's soul-crushing. And it's distressing and dangerous for your dog.
If you've read this far, you're looking for solutions on how to treat Separation Anxiety in a dog. And in this section, I'll share 10 tools you can use to help ease your dog's distress and teach them that it's safe to be alone.
It's worth mentioning that the most effective approach is using a combination of these tools to achieve your end goal of a happy, calm dog who can be left alone when necessary.
10 Science-Backed Tools to Treat Separation Anxiety in a Dog
Tool #1 – Training: Gradual Desensitizing
In my opinion, force-free, positive training is the most effective tool in dealing with Separation Anxiety.
Regardless of the other tools, you choose to use, desensitizing and counter-conditioning training should be your foundation.
And I'm not the only one…
In this study of 8 dogs, this training not only reduced problem behaviors but for some dogs totally eliminated them.
In fact, this training proved to be so powerful…
Those researchers found that even although the training was applied “haphazardly” by the owners (not professionals) it was successful in treating Separation Anxiety behaviors.
What is Gradual Desensitizing?
This type of training is based on a similar technique used to treat phobias in humans. And it was adapted in for dogs in the 60s and 70s, initially used in a case study of 3 dogs.
Keep in mind, this is not “flooding” a dog to the point where they freak out. It's a slow and systematic way to expose a dog to the fear trigger (being alone) while ensuring that they don't experience a fear response at any stage of the training.
How to Apply Gradual Desensitizing Training
Here's a handy infographic to help you along the way to gradually teaching your dog it's safe and okay to be alone.
Tool #2 – Training: Counter-Conditioning
Counter-Conditioning is a training tool that goes hand-in-hand with Gradual Desensitizing.
In fact, in this study of 247 dogs on Canine Fear and Phobias, the combination of desensitizing and counter-conditioning was successful in 100% of the study subjects.
And, interestingly, calming drugs were specifically avoided in this study. Which goes to show how powerful this combination of desensitizing and counter-conditioning is.
In a nutshell, counter-conditioning is a tactic to help dogs change the way they feel about something scary. In this case, the scary thing is being left alone.
It works by pairing a scary stimulus (you getting ready to leave), with something your dog finds pleasant, like food.
How to Apply Counter-Conditioning Training
Below is an infographic that will guide you to include powerful counter-Conditioning to teach your dog that good things happen when you're getting ready to leave home.
Tool #3 – Music
If you've ever wondered if music can have an effect on your dog, you'll be interested in considering music as a tool to ease separation anxiety.
And believe it or not, science can back this up…
In one study on two groups of kenneled dogs exposed to music for 7 days. The dogs were exposed to a fixed classical playlist for 6.5 hours a day.
The results of this auditory stimulation showed changes in the canine's heart rate variability (HVR). Which is an indication of stress reduction.
And the behavioral data collected showed some amazing results…
Dogs exposed to the classical playlist spent less time standing or barking. And instead spent more time sitting, lying down and silent.
In another study, the effects of different genres of music (Soft Rock, Motown, Pop, Reggae and Classical) were studied on 38 kenneled dogs for a period of 5 days.
It found that the dog's spent more time engaging in calm behaviors like lying down while the music was playing. It also found that the dogs were more likely to bark once the music stopped playing, regardless of the genre.
The HVR showed a significant reduction in stress when Soft Rock and Reggae were played. With a lesser effect when Motown, Pop and Classical music was played.
Regardless of the varying responses, the researchers found that the behavioral and physiological changes remained steady over the 5 day period.
And this study explored 5 types of auditory stimulation (human conversation, classical music, heavy metal music, pop music, and silence) on 50 shelter dogs.
It found that the vocalization and activity of the dogs were significantly influenced by the type of auditory stimulation.
Classical music caused the dogs to spend less time standing and more time resting. It also resulted in the dogs being significantly quieter than any other of the types of auditory stimulation.
Heavy Metal music, on the other hand, encourage the dogs to spend more of their time barking.
It's worth mentioning that in all these studies, the dogs became used to, or habituated to, the music rather quickly. Which makes it clear that a long playlist with several hours of music should be your goal.
That being said, these three studies alone should be enough to convince you that music is a powerful tool when it comes to Separation Anxiety.
Although my dogs don't suffer from Separation Anxiety, they are sensitive to loud noises. And if they become nervous or irritated enough by the noise they tend to bark, especially Lexi. So, I expose them to music frequently.
The times I've found music most useful for them is when I'll be away from home for more than a few hours. Or when one of the neighbors is using power tools. And of course when there are fireworks.
iCalmPet – Music to Your Dog's Ears
A while back I purchased music specifically created for dogs. And I can vouch for the calming effect it has on my dogs. You can check out this video to see my crew chilling to the sounds of their favorite iCalmDog album…
I also wrote an in-depth article on the studies behind this music for dogs. And had the privilege of chatting to Joshua Leeds, one of the brilliant minds behind iCalmPet.
iCalmPet offers hours and hours of music which is a great benefit because as the above studies have shown, dogs do get used to auditory stimulation quickly. The more music, the more variety, all the better for your pooch!
I love that the music is instantly available for download via Amazon. And if you're a paid-up member of Spotify, you already have access!
iCalmPet offers dog-centered music for various situations ranging from Separation Anxiety, Travel Anxiety and Aggression.
Not to mention music specially designed for puppies, senior dogs and boosting the human-canine bond.
Our favorite music from iCalmPet is the full iCalmDog album which you can find on Amazon. It's almost 4 hours of music and consists of 46 tracks.
The music has been clinically tested and I've found this album to be the most versatile for my dog's needs.
Tool #4 – Thundershirt
If you don't know this already, moderate to deep pressure works wonders to calm both animals and humans. You just have to look at the life-work of Temple Grandin (who has Autism) and her “hug box”.
Temple designed this pressure device to settle down her own hypersensitivity when she saw how cattle squeeze chutes calmed the cattle on her aunt's ranch.
At this point, if you're wondering what all of this has to do with your dog's Separation Anxiety, this is where the Thundershirt comes in…
The Thundershirt works by snuggly applying gentle pressure strategically along your dog's body. This pressure reduces the fight or flight response in anxious dogs, and as a result, lowers their panic levels.
Originally the Thundershirt was aimed at helping noise sensitive dogs. But it's been highly successful in treating everything from Separation Anxiety, travel anxiety to anxiety-filled vet visits.
And the manufacturer claims a success rate of over 80%. To back this up, a study led by Temple Grandin herself to research the effect of the Thundershirt showed some encouraging results.
The study was of 90 dogs who were diagnosed with Separation Anxiety or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
The group was a mix of small and large breeds. As well as pure and mixed breeds, with breeds ranging from Terrier, Herding, Toy to non-sporting and Hound groups.
The dogs were divided into three groups: Group 1 wearing the Thundershirt as per the manufacturer's specs, Group 2 wearing the Thundershirt loosely. And Group 3 had no pressure intervention.
Here's a quick breakdown of what the study found…
Reduction in Heart Rate
What the researchers found was that the dogs in Group 1 experienced a significant reduction in average heart rate AND maximum heart rate, compared to Groups 2 and 3.
Reduction in Stress-Related Behaviors
Orientation towards the door is considered a stress behavior exhibited by dogs suffering from Separation Anxiety. So it's interesting that only 53% of Group 1 dogs orientated towards the door when their owner's left, compared to 67% in Group 2 and 90% in Group 3.
The dogs in Group 1 also displayed less tongue-flicking and yawning which are also considered stress reduction behaviors. And there were fewer episodes of inappropriate elimination in this group.
Overall, the results found that dogs who wore the Thundershirt as per the specifications had lower heart rates and less visual orientation towards the door. And the trend was towards fewer stress-related behaviors like tongue-flicking and yawning.
Although this is a small study, I think the results speak to the positive benefits of using a Thundershirt as a tool in treating a dog with Separation Anxiety.
And the fact that the company offers a full refund if you're not happy shows that they stand by their product 100%.
Thundershirts come in sizes from xx-Small to xx-Large. However, because this jacket's effectiveness is based on a snug fit, I do recommend that you check out the sizing guide and measure your dog's chest.
Tool #5 – Calming Scents
Your dog's sense of smell is 10 000 to 100 000 times more accurate than yours. In fact, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College makes the following comparison…
While you might notice a teaspoon of sugar in your coffee, your dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in a whopping million gallons of water!
So it stands to reason, that using scent as a tool to help calm our dogs when they are anxious is worth a try.
And science has something to add to this theory…
In this study 55 shelter dogs were exposed to 4 different scents for 4 hours a day, over a 5 day period. The scents of lavender, chamomile, rosemary, and peppermint were used.
The behavior of the dogs was recorded on day's 1, 3 and 5. But it's the behaviors recorded from exposure to Lavender and Chamomile that are the most promising for dogs with anxiety…
The Lavender and Chamomile scents were notably positive and resulted in more relaxed behaviors. The dogs exposed to these scents spent less time moving and more time resting. And the researchers also noted less vocalization than with other scents.
In this next study, 15 shelter dogs were exposed to Coconut, Vanilla, Valerian and, Ginger scents. They were exposed to each scent for 2 hours a day, for 3 days with a break of 2 days in between scents.
And although this was a small study, the results were dazzling…
The Ginger, Coconut, Vanilla, and Valerian scents led to notably less vocalization and movement. While the Ginger and Coconut scents also increased sleeping in the dogs.
These two studies alone are encouraging for any pooch parent who is looking for tools to treat separation anxiety in their dog.
Essential oils are powerful and they need to be diffused rather than applied directly.
How to Properly Diffuse Scents for your Dog
The best way to diffuse calming essential oils for your dog is through a diffuser.
But not all diffusers are created equal…
Personally, I like this diffuser from Everlasting Comfort off Amazon.
This diffuser has a large 400ml tank. The first benefit to this is it can diffuse essential oils in a large room or space. And secondly, you're guaranteed it's not going to run out of water for at least 13 hours according to the manufacturer.
The second thing I love about this diffuser is its variable settings. You can select to have the diffuser run for 1, 3, or 6 hours.
You also have options to control how much mist it produces at either 50ml/hour or a low 30ml/hour.
Safety Note: I recommend never running the diffuser continuously. And always run it on it's lowest mist production. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. And always ensure there is ample ventilation.
And since you'll be using it for your dog while you're away, the auto-off feature means you don't have to worry about safety. Since the diffuser will turn off if the water level becomes too low.
Tool #6 – Food-Stuffed Toys
This tool goes hand-in-hand with the Counter-Conditioning training we touched on earlier.
Stuffing a toy with food your dog views as high-value is the ideal way to implement this training.
And popping it in the freezer for a few hours beforehand will ensure that your pooch needs to put in some effort to extract the yummy distraction.
What you stuff the toy with is entirely up to you and what your dog likes. Something like organic peanut butter and mashed bananas works well.
Of course, the toy you choose needs to be tough enough to take the punch of being chewed, so consider something like the Kong toy. It's ideal for stuffing and does just fine in the freezer.
Tool #7 – Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP)
Some dogs will experience a calming effect from dog Appeasing Pheromones or DAP. They work by mimicking the pheromones released by a nursing dog.
The pheromones are released using either a specially designed diffuser or a collar. And in both cases, last about a month before they need to be refilled or replaced.
I've included DAP in this list of tools because some dogs do benefit from this method. Although scientific studies have found conflicting results from experiments.
This study found that using DAP showed overall improvements in 10 hospitalized dogs. The dogs showed fewer signs of vigilance and there was a decrease in inappropriate elimination and lip-licking compared to the control group.
However, this study found no notable differences in stress-related behaviors between baseline and treatment periods.
Finding tools that work to help your dog with separation-related behaviors is a process of elimination. Some folks may find that DAP works a treat for their dogs. While other pooch parents will not have the same results.
Tool #8 – Calming Supplements
If you're like me and like treating your dog as naturally as possible, you might want to consider looking into calming supplements.
Calming supplements developed specifically for dogs are usually a mix of amino acids, vitamins, and other natural ingredients.
Zesty Paws has one of the best products I've seen for anxious dogs that need support.
Their Calming Bites are extremely popular and it's clear why when you consider the combination of ingredients and the science behind them.
Here's a quick breakdown with some science included…
Organic Hemp Powder
Hemp powder has a rich nutritional profile. It contains high levels of health-boosting antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.
And you don't have to worry about any THC turning your dog into Scooby Doo because Hemp usually only contains trace amounts of the compound. Somewhere around 0.03%, not enough to feel high.
Thiamine is better known as Vitamin B1. Thiamine is a coenzyme that has a lot of health benefits for the heart, nerves, and brain function.
But in these Calming Bites, Thiamine is there to boost mood and guard against depression and more importantly, anxiety.
Nine people diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and low blood Thiamine levels, experienced some very positive upticks after treatment with 100mg of Thiamine.
Not only did their anxiety scores and general well-being improve. These patients were also able to stop taking anti-anxiety drugs and beta blockers.
Chamomile is a plant from the Daisy family that's pretty well known for its positive effects on sleep.
And although there have been only a few studies on its effect in Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the results are promising.
This study found Chamomile significantly reduced GAD symptoms. However, it seems that it doesn't reduce the rate of relapse.
But since the study also found that long term use of Chamomile is safe, it's a great alternative for dogs with separation-related issues.
Valerian is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. And it's known as “nature's valium”.
There aren't a lot of studies out there on the effects of Valerian Root on anxiety. Although it is frequently used to treat insomnia.
Because of Valerian Root's mechanism of action, researchers believe it raises the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA in the brain. Which has a calming effect on the body.
This has a similar effect as powerful anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines. But without all the nasty side effects.
Organic Passion Flower
The medicinal power of Passion Flower started with the indigenous peoples of America. And it's accepted today for its natural calming effect.
Good evidence exists supporting the belief that Passion Flower has powerful anxiety relieving properties.
This study on 36 human patients diagnosed with GAD, Passion Flower was studied alongside Oxazepam (a powerful benzodiazepine). It found that Passion Flower is effective at treating anxiety.
The researchers also found that Passion Flower did not impair the job performance of the patients like the Benzodiazepine did.
But if you're worried that Passion Flower might turn your pooch into a zombie, don't be…
In this study of 60 pre-operative patients, Passion Flower reduced anxiety without causing sedation.
L-Theanine is a non-dietary amino acid found in Green Tea. Personally, I use L-Theanine regularly to help treat my own anxiety from PTSD. So I can vouch for the power of this compound.
L-Theanine has several health benefits for the brain. And this study found that because L-Theanine boosts Alpha brain waves, it promotes relaxation.
L-Theanine also increases GABA, Serotonin, and Dopamine in the brain. Which in turn brings on feelings of relaxation and well-being.
In this study of 33 cats, L-Theanine improved anxiety-related behaviors like inappropriate toileting, hypervigilance, aggressiveness and other physical signs of stress.
The improvements were seen after 15 days, although the most improvements were seen after 30 days.
And this study on a group of dogs with a fear of unfamiliar humans found that L-Theanine is effective at reducing fearful behavior. And the researchers support the use of L-Theanine in treating anxiety-driven behaviors.
Organic Ginger Root
Earlier I mentioned a study that found diffusing Ginger scent reduced movement and vocalization and also increased sleep in dogs.
Well, this study on 60 female mice found that Ginger was an effective replacement for Diazepam (Valium) to treat anxiety-related symptoms.
This essential amino acid is a precursor to the “happy hormone” Serotonin. In other words, the brain uses Tryptophan to make Serotonin. It also plays a role in healthy sleep.
This study of 25 adults examined the differences in eating a high or low Tryptophan diet for 4 days each.
It found that a diet high in Tryptophan not only improved mood but also decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety.
I'm a firm believer in exploring natural treatments before resorting to drugs. If your dog suffers from Separation Anxiety and is already on vet-prescribed medication I recommend chatting to the vet before starting your dog on Zesty Paws calming bites.
Tool #9 – Professional Behaviorist
If you've exhausted all your other options and your dog's separation-related behaviors are not improving, it might be time to enlist the help of a trained professional.
Get in touch with a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist or a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT). Or speak with your dog's vet for more guidance.
Tool #10 – Medication
Although I've mentioned that I'm the type who tries to avoid using drugs to treat my dogs, I've added medication as a tool, with a caveat…
These drugs are extremely powerful and do have serious side-effects.
Conventional drugs can in some cases be a useful tool, especially if your dog's stress behaviors are putting them in physical danger.
Short-term medicating can be useful in the beginning stages of teaching your dog that it's safe and okay to be alone.
But in my lay opinion, it should be considered as a temporary measure. And always used in conjunction with Desensitizing and Counter-Conditioning training.
Of course, it goes without saying that any medication should be prescribed by your dog's vet. And that your dog should be carefully monitored by a veterinary professional.
If you've made it this far, you know that Separation Anxiety can develop in any dog. You know that it's not your fault and that your dog is not “being spiteful” but rather that they are genuinely panicked when you leave.
How to treat Separation Anxiety in a dog is not rocket science but it takes patience, commitment, and a process to find the tools that work for your dog.
But hopefully, the most important thing you've learned is that there are a bunch of excellent tools and training techniques you can use to help your dog beat their fear of being alone.