Are you wondering why your German Shepherd gets stressed out and perhaps even destructive every time you leave the house?
Separation anxiety is quite a common phenomenon in dogs, and it can affect German Shepherds in particular. Since German Shepherds are so loyal and affectionate, they can become especially attached to their owners, leading to anxiety, aggression, and other poor behaviors when they are left alone. They may destroy things in the house, bark excessively, or even harm themselves when you are not there.
The rest of this article will go into what, exactly, separation anxiety is, how signs of it may manifest in your German Shepherd, and how you can avoid separation anxiety by training.
Do German Shepherds have separation anxiety?
While not all German Shepherds will have separation anxiety, it is definitely a common phenomenon in these dogs. This is because German Shepherds are exceptionally loyal dogs. They become very attached to their humans, and they do not like to see you leave. This can lead to negative and even destructive behavior when they are left alone.
This problem has become especially prevalent in recent years, as many puppies who were adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic have never had to experience their owners leaving to go to work in an office, for example.
What causes separation anxiety?
There is no singular factor that 100% causes separation anxiety. It may be caused by a range of things, but big changes or upheaval in your German Shepherd’s life may be more likely to cause new separation anxiety.
For example, if you have recently moved homes, had a new baby, adopted a new puppy, had a pet or family member pass away or move out, or had other new changes, your German Shepherd may develop separation anxiety. If you have recently had to return to the office, this can count as a big life change for your pup.
If you adopt a German Shepherd from a shelter, they may have some past issues with abandonment which can cause feelings of separation anxiety once you, their new human, leave the house. They may feel as if they are going to be rehomed again since they do not know when or if you are coming back.
Lastly, dogs are naturally packed animals in the wild. Their instincts tell them that you are their pack, and when you are not constantly with them, this can cause stress or anxiety.
What are some signs that my German Shepherd has separation anxiety?
We mentioned previously that poor or destructive behavior can be a signal of separation anxiety. When asking yourself “Do German Shepherds have separation anxiety?” here are a few things that can be indicators:
- Excessive barking, howling, or whining
- Chewing or otherwise destroying furniture, clothing, or other non-toy items
- Scratching at the door or walls
- Bathroom accidents
- Unusual aggression, especially when you try to leave
These can all be signs of separation anxiety. It is important to remember, however, that these can all be signs of other issues. Pay attention to when these behaviors are occurring. Do they only happen when you are gone or preparing to leave? If so, there’s a good chance that it is due to separation anxiety.
How can I prevent separation anxiety before it happens?
The best way to prevent separation anxiety before it happens is to make sure that your dog is used to being alone. If you adopt your German Shepherd as a puppy, start early on in their life by giving them the opportunity to experience being alone. Start with a few minutes at a time and work your way up to several hours.
This will show your dog that it is okay to be alone and that yes, you will come back! However, this may not always be possible to do, especially if you adopt an older dog who may have past issues with abandonment. If your dog suddenly develops separation anxiety after a big life change, you will also have to take a different approach.
My German Shepherd already has separation anxiety. How can I cure it?
If your German Shepherd already has separation anxiety or has suddenly developed it, there are a number of things you can try to help cure it. These things include:
We will go into more detail about each of these tactics in the following sections.
How do I train my German Shepherd not to be anxious?
Training the separation anxiety out of your pup can be a long and difficult process. The number one thing you want to do is to provide a positive association with you leaving, as well as positive reinforcement for calm, non-anxious behavior.
You can start with small increments of time. For example, give your German Shepherd a high-value treat such as a KONG toy or a puzzle toy which will require concentration. Then, leave the house for a small amount of time—no longer than a half-hour. Then come back.
You can repeat this process, slowly increasing the amount of time that you are gone. Just make sure to give a very positive treat before you leave and reward your pup for remaining calm. If they do not remain calm while you are gone, do not react to the negative behaviors. Ignore them to show your dog that they will not get the attention they crave from being destructive.
How much exercise does my German Shepherd need?
A contributing factor to your German Shepherd’s separation anxiety may be a lack of proper exercise. If your dog is full of pent-up energy when you leave the house, that energy can turn into nervous energy which then gets taken out in the destructive behaviors we are trying to prevent.
Make sure that your German Shepherd is properly exercised before you leave the house. You can do this by taking them on walks, runs, or engaging in play sessions. Most German Shepherds will need at least an hour and a half of exercise per day. This can be spread out over multiple walks or play sessions.
How can I desensitize my German Shepherd’s anxiety?
Desensitization is another tactic you can attempt to cure your German Shepherd’s separation anxiety. To do this, you want to have your dog experience being alone for short periods of time, slowly increasing the length. This is similar to the training section where you give your dog a treat, but for desensitization, the goal is to teach your dog that nothing bad will happen while you are gone.
You can start by having your German Shepherd practice the “stay” command while you leave the room. After a few minutes, you can return to the room and reward them. Increase this to a few minutes at a time, then progress to the training stage where you provide positive reinforcement.
You can also desensitize your dog to their anxiety triggers. For example, if they start to freak out and get anxious every time you get ready to leave the house, work on teaching them that you getting ready does not always mean you are about to leave.
Get dressed, put your shoes on, gather your keys and bag—and then don’t leave. This will slowly teach your dog not to ramp up the anxiety every time you even prepare to go.
Should I punish my German Shepherd for poor behavior?
No, you should never punish your dog for poor behavior, especially while training. Instead, you should do something called “non-rewarding.”
What is a “non-reward”?
A “non-reward” is the opposite of a reward. Basically, your dog is engaging in destructive behaviors because they are seeking your attention. So, you want to make sure that they are not getting what they are looking for by barking, scratching, etc.
For example, when you are getting ready to leave the house, if your German Shepherd begins to bark and whine and beg you not to leave, do not pet and reassure them. Instead, fully ignore the inappropriate behavior and continue on with your routine.
You want to teach your dog that the bad behavior is not going to get them what they want—instead, it will only achieve the opposite effect, which is even less attention.
Should I put my anxious German Shepherd on medication?
Every dog is different. If your German Shepherd suffers from severe separation anxiety, it is possible that this anxiety (and even depression) is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. In these cases, medication may be a helpful tool to help you manage the behavior.
However, you should never leap to medication as a first step when trying to cure your dog of anxiety. Instead, you should make sure that you have eliminated all other possible tactics first, and that the medication is recommended by a veterinarian.
Do German Shepherds have separation anxiety? Well, they are fiercely loyal dogs who become extremely attached to their owners, which yes, can often result in them suffering from separation anxiety. Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to check this behavior, including training, exercise, desensitization, and as a last resort, medication.