Dog separation anxiety is an uncomfortable disorder for both the dog and pet owner. Especially when your dog shows separation anxiety when you are simply trying to go to sleep. Of course, you love your pooch and want to be around him. However, a good night’s sleep is just as essential for both you and your pup. Is Fido noisy at night and struggling to get into your bedroom? Keep reading to learn to recognise signs of dog separation anxiety at night and how to deal with it.
Social Pack Animals
The reason that your pooch is so loyal to you is that he is a social pack animal. Meaning, your four-legged partner needs you to be the leader and show him how to behave properly. A dog who hasn’t been taught how to behave when left alone can suffer from distress. Learn how you can prevent separation anxiety and also how to treat it.
Signs of Separation Anxiety at Night
If your pet displays behaviour of separation anxiety at night then, it is very likely he has the same behaviour when you are not home. You could set up a pet camera to monitor their behaviour when alone in the house.
When it is time to go to bed, watch out for the following behaviours in your dog.
- Frantic scratching at your door
- Continuous whimpering, howling, barking
- Unsettled pacing
- Bathroom accidents despite being potty trained
- Excessive chewing and destruction
- Excessive salivation, panting
- Scratching face and biting the tail
If these symptoms are a nightly occurrence, this might indicate that your dog has separation anxiety. Consult your vet about these symptoms and what can be done about them.
Causes of Separation Anxiety at Night
As mentioned, dogs are pack animals that need companionship. However, they should also be confident enough to be alone at times.
The main cause for separation anxiety, is dog owners rewarding bad behaviour, whether on purpose or unknowingly. Hearing your dog whine in the other room or scratching at your door can be painful. However, by reacting to such behaviour, even to tell him off, you are rewarding bad behaviour with attention. This is called simulated separation anxiety. Show your pet that bad behaviour will not be rewarded and only give him attention when he remains calm after being left alone.
Then there are causes of separation anxiety at night that can still affect a well-trained dog. These causes are;
- A new home
- Loss of a pet friend
- Lack of mental stimulation and exercise during the day. In such cases, you should get puzzle toys for your dog.
- Changes in routine
- Change of pet owners
Senior Dogs With Separation Anxiety at Night
For other dogs, separation anxiety is more related to the nighttime darkness than to be alone. This is especially common with senior dogs whose eyesight, hearing and other senses are deteriorating. The darkness combined with lesser functioning senses can make old-timers nervous and so seek out their pack leader (you) for comfort.
It is possible for dogs that were previously fine with being alone to display separation anxiety at night as they reach old age. If your furry friend is starting to get uncomfortable in darkness, you can install a doggy night light.
Dogs have better night vision than humans but their night vision might not be as strong as they get old. You can install a night light for your dog near his sleeping place. This will give him enough vision to identify his surroundings.
Separation Anxiety in Rescue Dogs
A rescue dog is more likely to experiencing separation distress and develop separation anxiety than a dog who has lived in a stable home his entire life. Separation anxiety in rescue dogs can be triggered after experiencing a lifetime of being neglected, abandoned or worst-case scenario, abused. If the rescue dog has been neglected, he may not be used to having a loving owner, and thus could grow to be overly emotionally attached to the owner and become very anxious when he leaves. The reasons for a rescue dog to experience separation anxiety are easier to see, and rescue dogs have a more obvious basis for developing separation anxiety in comparison with a non-rescue dog.
Dogs who have been transferred from house to house owner to owner might feel frustration and confusion at the situation, only adding to their anxiety. As well as this, a rescue dog will have already dealt with trauma and anxiety from having a hard life, so being separated from his owner could cause even more stress and trauma than in the case with a dog that is not rescued. A dog may still be traumatised from its previous life.
For some rescue dogs, acting out and tearing things up when their owner is gone is a way of coping with their previous trauma, such as being separated from their owner when being taken to a dog shelter or their current trauma of developing separation anxiety. It is more likely for separation anxiety to develop in sheltered dogs, and it is believed that the loss of an important loved one is a reason for this fact to be true. In terms of symptoms, separation anxiety is not very different for a rescue dog, however, the reasons for a rescue dog to develop separation anxiety are more plainly seen.
How to Treat Separation Anxiety At Night
The first step in treating separation anxiety at night is to stop giving your dog attention when he acts out. Your dog needs to know that you are still in control as the pack leader and that your dog is still safe, even when you are not around.
This may be the hardest step in separation training because you don’t want to see your dog in distress but it is absolutely vital. You can also prevent negative associations with your bedtime cues by changing your routines or normalising them. This way your dog will not get nervous even before being separated from you.
Separation training is best done gradually. If you have a puppy, this will be an easier process. Even dogs that are used to sleep in or next to your bed are also able to learn to sleep elsewhere though.
You can start by having your dog sleep next to your bed if Fido is now still sleeping in your bed. Then, have your dog sleep in the next room but with the door open. If he is comfortable with the knowledge that you are only sleeping next door, you can close the door at night.
When you get to this step it is important to not respond to any unwanted behaviour such as whimpering or scratching at the door. Continue moving your dog’s sleeping spot further away overtime to get him to the desired distance.
These following training aids may ease the process for you and your dog.
Old clothes or blanket with your scent in his sleeping spot
The scent of lavender is well known for having calming effects on people and dogs. The scent of a dog’s owner, will react with the reward centre of the dog’s brain and make them happy and calm them down. If you put old clothes or blankets that have not been washed in a good few days, a dog can snuggle up to it. The dog will feel like the owner is nearby, and will feel safe and secure and not have to worry about being abandoned. A dog will know its master’s scent and will smell it better than any because it is his favourite scent in the world. Your dog can still feel your calming presence if you give him something with your smell. It will be like you are always there to look after your dog.
Pheromone spray to imitate the scent of a mother dog
Pheromones are emitted as a type of chemical communication between members of the same species and are received by an organ located between the mouth and nose. Mothers will emit pheromones while they comfort their puppies. Your dog’s body will be familiar with those pheromones and will respond well with them. Pheromone sprays are designed to calm your dog down in situations of high stress and anxiety, such as when a dog experiences separation anxiety. Most of the research done has shown that pheromone sprays do tend to work at helping your dog to relax. Pheromone sprays are a great way to calm your dog with the stimulation of natural calming pheromones of a mother dog. Your dog will feel like its mother is nearby calming them. A pheromone spray will be an excellent way for your dog to deal with separation anxiety while you are gone.
A crate or bed that feels like the dog’s own private comfortable space
A bed can provide a sleeping space separate from your bed, as sleeping in the same place as your dog may do more harm than good. You can start by placing it near your bed and then progressively move it further and farther away. If you want to, you can place your old clothes or blankets near or on the bed to calm your dog. As well as this, a bed can be a space for a dog to feel relaxed and calm that is independent of you. If the dog has a place to feel relaxed, comfortable and free it will be able to cope without you, particularly if it has your scent to make them feel like you are always nearby. Beds are a great way of helping your dog deal with separation anxiety while you are going out to work or out with friends, or when you are just going out to a different room.
Crate training can either be a useful way of dealing with separation anxiety, giving them a space to feel comfortable and relaxed like a bed or cause more stress and anxiety. Monitor the way your dog behaves during crate training and when you have left home and he is in the dog crate. If the dog displays heavy panting, excessive salivating, frantic escape attempts or any other signs of distress you will know that crates are a bad idea for your dog. Different dogs will have different reactions to being placed inside a crate while you are away. A crate will either be a good or bad idea, depending on your dog.
Vet prescribed medicine
If the dog’s anxiety is more severe, it might be best to go to see a veterinarian. A veterinarian will be able to offer professional help and will possibly offer some medicine such as Amitriptyline, which is an antidepressant tablet that will increase the levels of happiness in your dog’s brain in a week or two, Clomicalm, which works the same way amitriptyline does, or Reconcile, which can be given in tablets or liquid and works the same way. Amitriptyline and Clomicalm should be tapered off after the dog has been on the medication for a week or two and Reconcile should be tapered off after about a month or two. These medicines will increase the levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, that make humans and animals feel good, making your dog happier, calmer, and more relaxed when you are gone.
Remember, these options are merely tools and do not replace proper training.
It feels good knowing that your dog wants to stay by your side. However, we humans cannot stay in the house all day and every single day. There are times when Fido needs to be a good boy and entertain himself, even when you are simply in the other room. It is your job as a pet owner to make your dog comfortable with being alone. Don’t worry, a well-adjusted dog is perfectly capable of sleeping through the night.
When possible, start early with distance training to avoid struggling with nighttime separation anxiety later on. Hopefully, our tips will help you get to a good night’s sleep.
Before you go ahead and buy your puppy, you should always ask a list of questions about any disorders of health-related issues that might help your dogs’ anxiety.