As we start to see work-from-home restrictions beginning to lift in states across the country, our thoughts, of course, went to all of the newly adopted dogs and newly fostered dogs. What would happen to them when their new family is suddenly gone for the majority of the day? They’d just gotten used to them being around constantly! 😩

With separation anxiety being one of the highest diagnosed canine behavioral issues in the U.S., around 20-40%, according to the AVMA, we have some tips to help your rescue’s owners and fosters work through any separation anxiety that may come up during these unprecedented times.

First, know the symptoms of separation anxiety. If a new owner or foster calls and reports symptoms similar to the list below, ask them questions and listen to what is happening in the home. Did they just start going back to work? Has the dog ever been left alone? Is the behavior happening constantly, or is the issue only happening after the dog has been left alone? Being able to identify separation anxiety from behavior issues, like chewing vs. only chewing when the owner is gone, will impact the plan to help the dog going forward.

Common separation anxiety symptoms include:

Destruction caused by chewing, digging, biting, or scratching when left alone. Behavior such as chewing on doorways, digging at doors, or destroying household objects when left alone can not only cause damage to the owner’s or foster’s house but can also be dangerous for the dog. This can result in broken teeth, scraped paws, or damaged nails.

Constantly pacing back and forth in a fixed pattern after the owner or foster is gone. Dogs may pace back and forth in a room, along a window, or in circular patterns.

Urinating and defecating in the house while left along. If the dog is going to the bathroom inside, but in the presence of the owner, the house soiling is probably not caused by separation anxiety. If the dog is only doing this while the owner is gone, the dog may be suffering from separation anxiety.

Escaping when confined to an area after the dog has been left alone. The dog may chew through a crate or door, break a window, or dig under a fence in order to escape the confined area. This, again, can result in self-injury.

Persistent barking and howling that is only triggered by being left alone. Similar to the problem of going to the bathroom in the house, the fosters or owners should be vigilant to observe if the barking and/or howling is only happening when they leave the dog alone.

If the above behaviors only occur when the owner or foster is gone from the house, or even just in another room, it is likely separation anxiety.

Displaying nervous tendencies when the owner or foster gets ready to leave. If the dog starts to whimper, pace, pant heavily, has excessive salivation or shivers as the owner or foster begins to start their routine of leaving the house, this can also be a sign of separation anxiety.

After carefully listening and understanding what the foster or owner is reporting, you have both come to the conclusion the dog is suffering from separation anxiety.

Now what?

It’s time to take action to help keep the dog in the home. Below are tips to help empower the dog’s foster or owner to get through this. Remind the owner, it is nothing they have caused and it is not the dog behaving badly. Punishment for separation anxiety is not the answer. Separation anxiety is an anxiety or fear that causes the dog stress and needs to be dealt with patience and training.

For a dog displaying minor separation anxiety, start by talking with the foster or owner about not making a big deal out of leaving or coming home. Getting a dog excited or riled up each time you leave and/or come home can result in anxious behavior. Have them try ignoring the dog for a couple of minutes each time they come home. After a couple of minutes, they can calmly start petting the dog. Tell them not to make a big deal of leaving. They’ll be back, so don’t make the dog feel like it’s the last time they’ll see their humans.

For a dog with mild separation anxiety, have them try counterconditioning. Have the owner or foster start leaving a toy or treat they love to keep the dog busy for 20-30 minutes each time they leave. When the foster or owner returns take this particular toy or treat away. The dog will start to associate this happy thing with the owner or foster leaving. (Tell the foster or owner not to worry – the dog will still love them when they come home! 😉) A good idea for this treat or toy might be peanut butter in a chew toy.

For a dog with a more severe problem, such as behavior resulting in self-harm or major destruction, use the counterconditioning technique along with sit-stay and down-stay commands. To begin, do this while you are still in the house. Have the dog sit and stay with the treat or toy and then leave the room. This will help enforce that the dog can be happy in one place even without you in the room. The owner will gradually lead up to leaving the house using this same method.

If the behavior persists a professional dog trainer may be needed to step in and help the owner or foster.

It has been amazing to see the adoption and foster numbers rise these past few months. We want to see these numbers stay high. Being able to facilitate a happy and health foster to adoption process is key in finding these animals their FUREVER homes.

At Pawlytics you have the ability to track each foster and adoption applicant from application submission through taking a pet home. If a foster or owner calls, all of their information is readily available at your fingertips in the Pawlytics database. We hope this gives you, the life-savers, the power to keep pets in their happy homes to ultimately be able to save more animals!

EMPOWER your fosters and owners to WORK WITH their dogs to overcome separation anxiety.