Separation anxiety is among the most common reasons dogs wind up in shelters.
But if your pitbull exhibits signs of separation anxiety, there’s no reason for him to suffer such a cruelly ironic fate. While breeds that bond most closely with humans, such as the American Pit Bull Terrier, may have a slightly higher predilection for developing separation anxiety, nearly all of these cases are treatable.
You just have to find the solution, or combination of solutions, that work for your dog.
Do Pitbulls Have Separation Anxiety?
Yes, Pitbulls can have separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a natural fear that dogs can develop, especially if they are left alone frequently.
This can be troublesome for owners who work long hours or have other obligations outside of the home.
If you own a pitbull, you might be panicking right now thinking about the fact that this breed has a tendency to get separation anxiety more than most other breeds.
But don’t worry! There are steps you can take to prevent it from getting to this point or recover if your dog has developed separation anxiety as a result of your frequent absences.
Here are some indicators and tips on how to handle your pitbull’s separation anxiety.
Pitbull Separation Anxiety Signs
1. Changes In Behavior
The first thing to look out for if you believe your dog has separation anxiety is changes in behavior.
If your dog has always been calm around you and your family, but suddenly begins to cower, hide or show signs of nervousness when you are around, this could be a sign that something medical is wrong with your dog.
It’s a good idea to see a veterinarian to rule out this possibility. If your dog has always been anxious when they are left alone and suddenly cries or acts out when you leave, this is likely a sign of any one of three things:
- Separation Anxiety: anxiety specifically about the owner leaving.
- Containment Phobia: similar to claustrophobia in humans.
- Self-indulgent behavior: a dog (typically adolescent age) who is just upset about not being the center of attention at the moment.
It’s important to make the distinction of what type of anxiety your dog has before proceeding.
If you’re unsure, most dog trainers will perform a behavior consult for free or for a small fee.
2. Excessive Drooling
If your dog’s anxiety begins to manifest itself physically, you may notice an increase in drool. The reason behind this is that dogs drool when they are anxious because they are secreting excess saliva.
They do this to keep themselves calm because saliva contains natural opiates that are somewhat relaxing.
3. Howling, Whining, And Barking
Perhaps one of the most clear-cut signs that your dog has separation anxiety is excessive howling, whining, and barking, especially if your dog cries for long periods of time.
If your dog only whines and cries for a few minutes, however, anxiety isn’t likely. It’s common for a spoiled dog to be offended when you leave him. He wants to make sure you are aware of his disapproval.
This is not the same thing as separation anxiety.
4. Stimming Behavior
If your dog begins to spin in circles, jump up and down or pace around the house, it could be because of anxiety.
This type of behavior is referred to as “stimming”. It is a way that dogs with separation anxiety attempt to self-soothe when in distress.
Chewing is also a stimming behavior. This is often very disruptive and can cause a lot of damage around the house.
You may also notice damage to entry and exit points in your home like doors and windows.
This could indicate a containment phobia problem (i.e. claustrophobia).
5. Urination, Defecation, And Excess Eating
If your dog urinates or defecates excessively when left alone, and frequently has loose stools or diarrhea, it could be a sign of anxiety.
In many cases, dogs with separation anxiety will urinate, defecate, or chew things when left alone.
This is because they are experiencing extreme anxiety which can cause stomach upset and explains the urinating and defecating.
Possible Causes Of Separation Anxiety
In some cases, separation anxiety is precipitated by a particular event, such as the death of a beloved pack member, someone moving away on a permanent basis, being left at a shelter, or getting lost.
But there are many instances where no one will ever know why a particular case of separation anxiety developed.
Solutions For Pitbull Separation Anxiety
Regardless of the cause, here are a few methods you can start using right away to treat separation anxiety.
- Practice Leaving (progressive desensitization)
- Crate Training
- Increased Exercise
- Calming Remedies
- Get a second dog
Practice Leaving: Progressive Desensitization
Start by entering the room where you plan to leave your pitbull, tell her to stay, and walk out. Close the door behind you. Then immediately come back in. Don’t make a big production out of coming and going, treat everything as matter of fact.
Continue practicing this routine, never leaving the room for more than a few seconds at a time, until your dog no longer acts anxious when you leave or return.
Gradually increase the length of time you leave your dog alone, and how far away you go. At first, stay in the house. The next step is to try going outside into the yard. Soon, you’ll have worked your way up to getting in the car and driving around the block.
Once you get past an hour or two hours, and your dog is no longer anxious, there’s a good chance she’ll be fine for a whole day. Before you leave your dog alone for this length of time, however, you might want to hire a pet sitter or pretend to leave while actually staying in another part of the house.
This way you’ll be sure of her safety before you leave her on her own for an extended period of time.
There are two important techniques you should employ as you make your absences longer.
- Vary your timing.
- Use cues.
Varying your timing is important because you don’t want your dog to think each new absence will always be longer. That could cause anxiety all by itself if she starts doing the math. The more extended her time alone becomes, the more often you want to surprise her by coming back early.
Cues provide an important tool to relax your dog. You might always turn on the radio, or give him a stuffed Kong or a favorite snuggle toy, when you leave for your brief absences. In your pitbull’s mind, this cue will soon become associated with the assurance of your prompt return.
At the same time, desensitize your pitbull to other cues that he associates with long isolation. Make a habit of picking up your keys or putting on your coat, and then not leaving. That will de-emphasize the stress factor associated with those behaviors.
There are four obvious advantages to crate training.
- Your pitbull can’t tear up the house in the crate.
- Your dog can’t accidentally get into anything toxic in the crate.
- Dogs feel more secure in den-like environments such as crates.
- The first three benefits manifest immediately, without extended practice time.
The best kind of crate to get for separation anxiety purposes is the plastic, airline approved Vari-Kennel type. A panicky pitbull might be able to dismantle a wire crate from the inside, either releasing himself or hurting himself in the process, and possibly increasing the panic factor. Plastic crates, on the other hand, are the safest place to be even during an earthquake.
Your pitbull won’t get out and is less likely to hurt himself in the crate than whole roaming the house in a panic.
While eliminating property damage and the risk of getting into the cleaning products are obvious short-term benefits, crates can also be great for your pitbull’s long-term psychological health.
Dogs feel more secure in caves and dens, and they feel more secure in crates. Anyone who leaves their dogs’ crates open can tell you that dogs voluntarily curl up in crates throughout the day and night, even when they have the run of the house.
The same is sometimes true of closets, but who knows what your dog can get up to in the closet? And really, leaving your dog in the closet just seems tacky. Go with the crate. Ideally, leave your dog with a stuffed Kong toy or something similarly safe for unsupervised chewing to help pass the time while you’re gone.
Obviously, being in a crate won’t directly prevent barking or self-mutilation activities.
However, the lowered anxiety levels in a crate may also reduce the likelihood of these behaviors. To really be confident of eliminating them, combine crate training with progressive desensitization.
Anxiety takes a lot of energy. And bored dogs are more likely to be anxious. Reduce both boredom and energy levels by greatly increasing your dog’s exercise levels, and you might lessen her separation anxiety.
This is especially true when the tiring, fun exercise takes place right before you leave.
It’s also worth mentioning that many dog owners think their pet has separation anxiety, when in fact the dog is just restless and bored. In these instances, the symptoms of separation anxiety may be completely cured by increasing exercise levels.
Even in cases of genuine high-grade separation phobias, exercise provides an excellent, and in some cases a necessary, complement to other methods of reducing anxiety. Plus, it’s good for your dog’s physical health, and yours.
Some dog owners have had good results adding natural calming remedies to the behavioral suggestions for combating separation anxiety. Some things you can try:
- Homeopathic Remedies (try a combination remedy formulated to soothe the nervous system such as PetCalm or have a homeopath prepare a constitutional remedy specifically for your dog)
- Flower Essences (Bach’s Rescue Remedy is the best-known flower essence for anxiety, but there are others as well)
- Herbs (try kava kava, passion flower, valerian root, skullcap, and/or chamomile)
- Essential Oils (try using a blend of German chamomile, lavender, and other calming essential oils in an aromatherapy diffuser while you’re gone)
Get a Second Dog
Many dogs feel more comfortable as long as anyone is there with them, including another dog. If the other dog is an accepted and trusted pack member, all the better.
Do keep in mind that with pitbulls, you need to be sure you crate the dogs separately when you leave. This goes triply when introducing a new dog into a high stress situation like separation anxiety.
Also, make sure your pitbull is okay with the presence of another dog before you formally adopt. The same rules apply as with any other time you add a new dog to the household.
Extremely Severe Cases Of Separation Anxiety
If your dog is destroying your house and engages in self-mutilating behavior while crated, you can’t wait for therapeutic techniques to kick in.
Assuming you have to depart the house during this period, and exercise and calming remedies fail to curb the behavior, you may have to leave your dog with a competent and caring friend, family member, or pet sitter while you’re away.
You can also try a boarding kennel. But keep practicing progressive desensitization and crate training. Eventually, your dog will almost certainly come around.
What NOT To Do
Finally, here are a couple of things to avoid doing.
Never punish your dog for exhibiting signs of separation anxiety! Punishing your pitbull for being distressed when you leave is wrongheaded for many reasons, but the one that should get through to everyone is that it doesn’t work.
Punishment exacerbates the problem. Fear of being punished when you return gives your dog one more reason to panic when you leave.
And second, if your pitbull has a tendency to destroy property while you’re away, don’t point out the items you especially wish to keep safe before you leave. Your dog could misinterpret you and think these items need special attention during the chewing frenzy.
Or, because dogs, like people, tend not to be entirely rational when they are panicking, your pitbull might think something along the lines of “Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! They left me theyleftmetheyleftme! What do I do what do I do whatdoIdo SOFA! I remember they pointed out the sofa MUST POUNCE NOW sofasofasofa — Wait. Where did the sofa go? What happened? What is this mess all over the floor where the sofa used to be? Oh no whatdoIdo Garbage! They pointed at the garage before they left!” And so forth.
While separation anxiety can result in injury to your dog, massive property damage and furious neighbors, even the most severe cases can usually be cured with proper training/treatment.
Crate training can stop the property damage right away, and a variety of effective techniques exist that you can use to reduce your pitbull’s anxiety, leaving both of you happier and (at least relatively) stress-free.
Pitbull Separation Anxiety Final Thoughts
If you notice any of the changes mentioned in this article, it is important to take action.
Otherwise, your dog’s anxiety will worsen and could even lead to them developing serious psychological issues.
The best way to treat separation anxiety in dogs is to employ the help of a trainer who understands behavior modification strategies.
Separation anxiety is a serious problem that justifies hiring a dog trainer. This means you will have to spend some time retraining your dog to reduce their anxiety.