German Shepherds are prone to separation anxiety more than most other dog breeds when they are parted from their owners. This is because they’re a very loyal and affectionate breed and form an intense bond from early puppyhood. So, how do you stop separation anxiety in German Shepherds?
To stop separation anxiety in German Shepherds, keep departures and arrivals low-key with minimal fuss. Leave your dog where he feels relaxed and comfy, with lots of toys and distractions, and train him using behavior modification techniques such as counter conditioning and desensitization.
Separation anxiety in German Shepherds is a severe problem that can lead to long-term health problems, even if your dog is only left alone for a short time. Fortunately, you can help to prevent or stop separation anxiety with my recommendations.
This is my complete guide on how to stop separation anxiety in German Shepherds. You’ll learn:
- Ten tips on how to stop your German Shepherd from experiencing separation anxiety.
- Why German Shepherds are prone to separation anxiety.
- Health implications.
- Treatment options, including medication and alternative treatments.
- When to consult your vet.
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So, if you want to learn how to stop separation anxiety in German Shepherds, you’ll love this guide!
Let’s get started.
How to Stop Your German Shepherd from Experiencing Separation Anxiety
The stress and anxiety caused by separation anxiety are due to your German Shepherd’s over-attachment to you. Your dog is purely unable to manage his feelings of loneliness and separation.
Before we jump right into the steps I thought I’d share this captivating 5-minute video from “Animal Wised” discussing the causes, symptoms, treatment, and management of separation anxiety in dogs:
Let’s now dive into my 10-step guide to preventing and ultimately stopping separation anxiety in your German Shepherd.
1. Choose where to leave your German Shepherd
If you live in an apartment, your only option will be to leave them inside. However, homeowners have the luxury of a backyard, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a better choice for your German Shepherd.
Some dogs get separation anxiety more often if they’re left outside because they’re not used to the environment. You will be pleased to know there is a solution to this if you properly train them. Check out my top tips on how to train a German Shepherd puppy to stay outside.
If you choose to leave them inside, no doubt they will enjoy the comfort of their own home, and if they are crate trained most dogs love their crate as it is their special place which makes them feel safe and secure.
A point to note is that some dogs that have separation anxiety do not do well in a crate. Again, all dogs are different. Test all options to see which is best for your German Shepherd.
2. Leave plenty of toys and other distractions
When there’s nothing to do your German Shepherd might start to get bored, frustrated, or anxious. They’ll start to worry if you’ll ever come back home.
Once you’ve left plenty of interesting toys or other items around, they’re not going to worry as much. You can even get a dog agility course if your GSD stays outside, which can provide hours of fun. If you are creative and want to save money, you can even make one yourself.
If you leave your dog inside try leaving the TV on or have some gentle music playing. It’s also better if you try to keep to a schedule, that way they’ll get to know when they can expect your return.
3. Practice short trips first
Even short one-hour spells away from home can stress your German Shepherd when they’re not used to it. Start by leaving them for a few minutes at a time from eight weeks old. This is a proven technique to help stop separation anxiety in German Shepherds.
Gradually build this up over the next few weeks increasing the time they are left bit by bit. A rough guideline is that puppies should be left no more than one hour per month of age up to a maximum of four hours. You can read more info on how long German Shepherds can be left alone in this guilt-free guide.
Tip: When my German Shepherd was a young pup, even if I had nowhere to go, I would just go upstairs to another room and stay silent for around 20-30 minutes, just so she could get used to being alone in her crate.
4. Have visitors once you’ve practiced your leaving schedule
If your German Shepherd can be entertained or exercised while you’re away, they’re less likely to miss you and stress about it. They’ll also know that they’re not going to be left alone for too long each day if you have a friend or relative call round.
However, you should try to avoid this step if you notice that your German Shepherd is beginning to feel quite comfortable alone. It should only be attempted if your dog is experiencing separation anxiety and/or you need to be away for more than four hours. Otherwise, you could end up reversing the effects of steps 1 through 3.
5. Slowly reduce the time spent by visitors
If you’ve had friends or relatives come over to help with your German Shepherd while you’re gone, you can’t rely on them forever. Also if you’re hiring a dog-sitter or dog-walker, the cost can soon mount up.
As your pup gets older and more comfortable with being left alone you can slowly reduce the time spent by visitors by reducing the hours that they visit each day.
Another way to do this step is to have someone visit every other day rather than every time you’re away. Instead of expecting a friend at all times, your dog will learn that they’re going to have to get used to being alone every once in a while. This will depend on your schedule as dogs should not be left alone for more than four hours.
6. Always show your dog affection randomly throughout the day
German Shepherds are all about you and they stress very easily. One way to stop separation anxiety in German Shepherds is to show them that you love them and that they are important to you.
A GSD can’t break a bond – they are known to bond for life. If you show affection randomly during the day this will reassure them that the bond they’ve formed with you is a two-way thing and is not going away.
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7. Make sure to exercise your German Shepherd enough
Dogs, especially German Shepherds, need a high amount of exercise and this helps to prevent a variety of health issues.
This study found that dogs with separation anxiety exercised less compared with dogs that did not have separation anxiety.
Always exercise your German Shepherd before you leave them as this certainly helps to stop separation anxiety. They will be tired and will just want to sleep while you are away. A tired dog is a happy dog. When you return home, exercise them again. You’ll both get health benefits from all the exercise, and your dog will begin to feel less anxious.
A German Shepherd needs at least two periods of between 45 to 60-minutes of exercise each day depending on their age and whether they have any health issues. It’s also important that you allow your dog to run off-leash and play games such as fetch or frisbee that will also mentally stimulate him. Walking him on the lead every day without any variety will not be sufficient.
8. Don’t show your German Shepherd too much attention, too often
This step might seem to contradict step 6, but it’s actually in addition to it. You should love your dog, but don’t force them to participate in every activity that you do around the house. You need to allow them to have some independence as you might inadvertently be making them too clingy.
Due to the intense bond that German Shepherds form, if they’re constantly with you every minute of the day, it’s only natural that they’ll freak out and stress whenever you leave. They are sensitive and emotional dogs. To stop separation anxiety in your German Shepherd, you will need to give them time on their own.
Even if you create a routine, this strong bond can become a problem if you allow it. Make sure you show them affection at the right times, such as during training or when they deserve praise.
There are also other ways to show affection rather than cuddling them all the time. You could take them for extra walks, play with them more, or offer them special treats or toys as rewards.
9. Consider a second dog to be a friend
One solution to help stop separation anxiety in German Shepherds is to consider getting a second dog. This is a massive commitment and you need to carefully think about how much extra time, work, and expense this will involve.
If you and your family are truly set on a second dog, bear in mind that adult German Shepherds often have a troubling time accepting new dogs into their lives. This problem stems from their intense bond with you.
However, a young adolescent dog will likely receive a new friend with open paws. They’ll be able to play and entertain each other without you having to worry about your German Shepherd developing separation anxiety.
One important point to note here is that if your GSD is already suffering signs of separation anxiety, experts say it’s not a good idea to get a second dog as the anxiety can often be passed onto the newcomer. The new dog may get stressed over his new friend’s behavior!
Instead, you must work to solve your German Shepherd’s anxiety first before bringing a second dog into your home.
10. Install cameras around the house to monitor your progress
To review how effectively your methods are working you can install one or two cameras around the house.
Doggie cams, such as the Furbo (check price on Amazon), are excellent for this. You simply operate it from your smartphone. These cameras allow you to watch how your dog is behaving, which toys they play with the most, and how they interact with visitors such as dog-sitters. I like the Furbo as it even allows you to toss out treats to your dog – how cool is that!
One thing to note is that if your German Shepherd is already suffering from separation anxiety, using cameras where your dog can hear your voice and not see you may cause additional stress. It’s all about trial and error and seeing what works, so in this situation, it may be better to just watch him rather than talk to him.
It’s important to get to the source of your German Shepherds problems and the next section will teach you why GSDs get separation anxiety in the first place.
My 5 Favorite German Shepherd Products to Make Life Easier:
- Walk Your Dog With Love No-Pull Harness. I love this harness, and it’s what I use. There’s just no way your dog can pull. It’s easy to fit and inexpensive. You can read my full review here.
- Midwest Homes for Pets iCrate. A crate is a must-have product. This cool all-inclusive one has a ton of handy features, and there’s nothing extra to buy.
- FURminator Undercoat deShedding Tool. I’ve tried many others, but this grooming tool is by far the best. It gets right through to the undercoat and easily removes all the loose hair.
- KONG Classic. I love KONG toys as they’re super tough and made for your German Shepherd’s teeth! The Classic Toy is fun to chew, chase, and fetch or even stuff with tasty treats.
- Big Barker Orthopedic Dog Bed. Scientifically proven to prevent and reduce joint pain in big dogs. The 10-year guarantee is also pretty cool too! You can also get it on Amazon here, but you don’t get the 10-year warranty.
My full list of recommendations can be found here.
Why Do German Shepherds Get Separation Anxiety?
As you have learned, German Shepherds are no stranger to separation anxiety. They’re more susceptible to it than most other dogs. Despite their somewhat intimidating features and protective nature, GSDs can get sad, scared, and feel stress and anxiety quite easily when parted from their owner.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that dogs were bred to be highly social with humans. German Shepherds were initially bred as herding working dogs and later used as companion dogs.
It’s no wonder that the German Shepherd can suffer from separation anxiety such is their strong desire to interact with their family!
Occasionally, there may be other causes of separation anxiety. Some German Shepherds are born with medical conditions that can cause additional stress, such as digestive disorders or hip dysplasia. As a large breed dog, the GSD can also be susceptible to heart problems such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
These issues can be accelerated and amplified both when they suspect you are about to leave and when they are left alone. In addition to this, some dogs are genetically predisposed to anxiety in general and are therefore at more risk of developing separation anxiety.
Tip: Try to learn more about your dog’s parents before you buy your German Shepherd. Make sure you thoroughly research the breeder to ensure they are reputable and honest. These investigations will give you some much-needed insight into what sort of health issues your dog might experience. Check out my complete buyer’s guide on how to buy a German Shepherd for more insight.
Truthfully though, most German Shepherds have separation anxiety because of their intense bond to you. They are such a devoted, loyal, and affectionate breed they cannot cope with loneliness and separation. When you’re gone, they worry you’ll never return. That’s the core root cause of most separation problems.
During their first four months of life, puppies must get used to being left alone, starting with a few minutes at a time and then gradually building up. This will teach them that it’s quite normal to be left alone and they will quickly learn how to deal with separation.
Other causes of separation anxiety may be due to a traumatic event whilst they were young such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a change of owner. This is why separation anxiety is more common with adopted dogs and these dogs may also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Finally, a major change in their environment, such as a house move, or major changes in their routine, such as a change in the owner’s shifts at work can be a cause of separation anxiety. Inadequate socialization during puppyhood can also play a part.
It is often reported that separation anxiety can be caused when puppies are removed too soon from their mother (premature weaning), however, this does not appear to be the case according to this study by the American Veterinarian Medical Association:
“Results do not support the theory that early separation from the dam leads to future development of separation anxiety.”American Veterinarian Medical Association
However, sometimes it can be something different that YOU may need to work on. As mentioned above, being around them too much when you’re home strengthens the bond far too heavy, and this can lead to them being fearful, lonely, and frustrated every time you walk out of the door.
Indications of separation anxiety when you’re about to leave are panting, drooling, howling, barking, whining, sweating from the paws, and dilated pupils.
When they’re alone they may continue with the excessive vocalizations, engage in destructive behavior such as excessive chewing or digging. They may try to escape and have increased potty accidents. When the owner returns, the welcoming behaviors displayed by the dog are greatly exaggerated and the dog is difficult to calm down.
In extreme cases, your German Shepherd may not be interested in playing with his favorite toys – even the interactive ones stuffed with tempting peanut butter are of no interest! He may not wish to eat or drink and may suffer from vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Is Anxiety Bad for Your Dog’s Health?
Unfortunately, too much anxiety and stress can be a major concern for your German Shepherd’s health. We are all aware of the medical problems that arise when we stress about work, relationships, or financial issues. The same negative effects can occur in a dog who experiences separation anxiety throughout the day.
Just like humans, excessive stress and anxiety can cause your dog to suffer from high blood pressure and heart disease. Other common health issues that may arise from separation anxiety in your dog include:
- Digestive problems (upset stomach, loose stools, or constipation)
- Stomach ulcers
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
As you can see, anxiety and stress shouldn’t be dismissed when it comes to your German Shepherd’s health and that’s why it’s important to learn what you can do to stop it.
We might not be able to see some physical changes, and that’s why stress is known as the silent killer. It’s subtle enough to go unseen, but eventually, it can cause a myriad of health problems for your dog.
How Do You Treat Separation Anxiety in German Shepherds?
The good news is that there are a few ways to treat separation anxiety in your German Shepherd. Once your vet has diagnosed the anxiety and ruled out any other medical conditions, you can both come up with a workable treatment plan.
Interestingly, I found some recent research suggesting that understanding the root cause of the separation anxiety could be the key to effective treatment.
The research conducted by a team of scientists at the University of Lincoln, UK, also stated:
“Separation anxiety in dogs should be seen as a symptom of underlying frustrations rather than a diagnosis.”Science Daily
Training strategies such as behavior modification techniques or exercises can be used to stop separation anxiety in German Shepherds.
One example is counter conditioning your dog by training him not to associate “departure cues” that you are about to leave (for example, the sound of you picking up your keys).
The idea is to condition your dog to look forward to you leaving by associating the sound of your keys with getting a treat.
Another technique is desensitization. This is where you gradually teach your dog to cope with a situation by carefully exposing him to that situation in very small steps. For example, you can start by making progressive departures of 1-5 minutes when you leave your German Shepherd.
Check out this video from one of my favorite dog trainers, Zak George. Zak shows you exactly how to use both counter conditioning and desensitization techniques if your dog goes crazy when you are about to leave.
It features a gorgeous Vizsla puppy who just like German Shepherds, is also known to be susceptible to separation anxiety:
You might want to consult a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to help you with these techniques.
For more serious cases, another treatment option is to use prescribed anti-anxiety medications. These should be used in conjunction with the training techniques.
Anti-anxiety medications can reduce the effects of separation anxiety in your German Shepherd, however, the thing to remember here is that although these may help to relieve your dog’s stress and associated symptoms, they don’t tackle the initial cause of the problem.
The general aim would be to wean your dog off any medication within 6-9 months, however, in extreme cases, some dogs may require medication for their entire lives to help manage their anxiety.
Never give your German Shepherd any medication unless it has been prescribed by a veterinarian.
As you can never foresee any health problems that your dog may develop, I would always advise you to purchase a suitable dog insurance policy as this not only gives you peace of mind but also helps you to avoid unexpected expenses.
Another treatment option that has become popular is the use of dog appeasing pheromone (DAP). This is a synthetic copy of the natural comforting pheromone secreted by a dam to reassure her puppies.
Many studies prove that dog-appeasing pheromone has therapeutic effects of calming and reducing anxiety in both young and adult dogs. One such study proved that DAP improved separation anxiety in hospitalized dogs.
Adaptil is the brand recommended, most trusted, and used by vets and expert animal behaviorists. I have never needed to try this for my German Shepherd, however, if the situation arose, I would try Adaptil as it is referenced by The Merck Veterinary Manual.
As always, talk to your vet first before trying this product, but if you think this might help, you can find the Adaptil Dog Calming Diffuser Kit on Amazon.
CBD Oil to Reduce Separation Anxiety for GSDs
Cannabidiol oil (CBD oil) is a controversial alternative supplement used to treat separation anxiety dogs. It’s mainly derived from the flowers of the hemp plant, but it doesn’t contain THC which is the compound that causes the “high” in cannabis users.
CBD oil is known to cause a calming sensation for humans and some dog owners claim that their dogs benefit from using it as it helps to fight their separation anxiety by relaxing them and keeping them calm when they’re alone.
However, it’s important to note that there is no conclusive scientific data to prove how effective CBD oil is in treating anxiety in dogs.
One of the main reasons that so many pet owners consider using CBD oil for their German Shepherds is because it’s all-natural and free of toxins. Rather than most medications that are made in a lab, CBD oil is naturally derived from a plant.
Before you give any supplement to your German Shepherd, you should contact your veterinarian for advice. Some dogs might be allergic to CBD oil, so you must find out all about this product before giving it to them.
You will also need to discuss potential side-effects and risks. When making your decision whether to try CBD oil, remember that this supplement is currently unregulated, however, there are lots of ongoing studies and research.
CBD oil is available in drops, capsules, and a range of treats. Most dogs seem to prefer treats for obvious reasons. You can purchase CBD oil products at most pet stores or through online retailers.
Make sure the brand you choose is high-quality, organic, and free from additives before giving it to your German Shepherd. Also, it’s wise to check the analysis of the product showing the amount of CBD.
You must also check it contains very little or no THC – don’t forget, this is the stuff that gives the psychoactive effect! CBD oil must not legally contain no more than 0.3 percent THC in all 50 US States, however, the limit is 0.2% in the UK, so check the law where you live.
If you’re searching for holistic fixes, CBD oil is a new option to try. However, as with prescription anti-anxiety drugs, you must remember that medication will not treat the underlying problem and will only relieve your dog from his symptoms.
It could be tried as a way of giving your GSD some temporary relief whilst you are working on the behavior modification techniques described above.
Note: Don’t give more CBD oil than recommended. If your dog isn’t responding to the product, ask your vet before increasing the amount that you give them.
When Should You Take Your German Shepherd to the Vet?
Puppies under five-months-old will naturally display some of the symptoms of separation anxiety, such as chewing and potty accidents, however, this is not to say they are suffering from separation anxiety. It’s important to distinguish between this normal puppy behavior and something more serious.
However, if your German Shepherd pup is more than five months old and you’ve tried all the suggestions in this post without any results, it might be time to visit your local vet.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of separation anxiety that your dog may experience:
- Heavy panting, drooling or shaking
- Increased heart rate for extended periods
- Excessive whining, barking, howling or pacing
- Sweating from the paws
- Dilated pupils
- Seizures, muscle spasms, or sudden bouts of confusion
- Aggressive behaviors such as barking or biting
- Inappropriate urinating or defecation
- Tense muscles for longer than 20 to 30 minutes
- Depression that causes them to hide
If you’re unsure or worried, it’s a good idea to have your dog checked over. Every German Shepherd is unique, so don’t try to solve everything the same way as a friend or neighbor might have done. Use your instinct and judgment.
Although many German Shepherds can experience separation anxiety, it’s entirely possible for you to treat, reduce, and manage their unnecessary stress.
By following the suggestions found in this guide, you’ll be better equipped to leave your dog for a while without him panting, pacing, or whining and suffering all the other nasty things that stress and anxiety brings. You will have trained your German Shepherd to enjoy their time alone!
Here’s a quick rundown of the important takeaways from this post:
- Work on behavior modification techniques.
- Practice a few minutes at a time and build up before you leave for a few hours.
- Make sure you thoroughly exercise your dog before leaving them.
- Consider hiring a dog sitter or dog walker or use a doggie day-care.
- Leave enough interesting toys to entertain your GSD while you’re gone.
- Consider getting a second dog.
- If all else fails, ask your vet about medication of alternative treatments such as Adaptil or CBD oil.
Remember, you need to be patient and consistent as any therapy, whether that be behavior modification techniques and/or anti-anxiety medications, can take weeks or months, depending on the circumstances.
You need to follow the schedule as discussed with your vet or expert dog behaviorist, and never punish your German Shepherd if he is anxious. Stay calm and confident and use basic commands such as sit or stay and consider the use of a dog camera to review the progress. Good luck!
Related Posts You May Like:
- PLOS ONE: Early Life Experiences and Exercise Associate with Canine Anxieties
- Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine: Reasons Not to Get a Second Dog
- VCA Hospitals: Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Dogs
- Web MD: Is Your Dog Emotionally Scarred?
- American Veterinarian Medical Association: Risk Factors and Behaviors Associated With Separation Anxiety in Dogs
- AKC – Dog Anxiety
- Science Daily: New Research Unpicks Root Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Efficacy of Dog-Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) for Ameliorating Separation-Related Behavioral Signs in Hospitalized Dogs
- MSD Veterinary Manual: Principles of Pharmacologic and Natural Treatment for Behavioral Problems
- Canine Journal – Best CBD Oil for Dogs