Handling Separation Anxiety in Shelter Dogs

In the animal shelter environment, it is not uncommon for animals to enter with some behavioral issues. While this does not mean they are any less of a perfect companion, it does mean that the adopter may have to put in some extra effort working with their newly adopted pet and teach them to love and trust the world around them.

Separation Anxiety

The term separation anxiety refers to the distress dogs feel when left alone. This is one type of behavioral issue we come across on occasion with our pups.

Separation anxiety sometimes will translate to the dog barking, pacing, chewing on inappropriate items, and even trying to escape (the crate, room, or home) when left alone. While the level of severity does vary from dog to dog, this is something that adopters will typically want to reach out to professionals about.

The 3-3-3 Rule

A significant aspect to consider when working with a new pet is the Rule of Threes. This rule is our way of emphasizing the importance of being patient with your pet and giving them time to adjust.

The first ‘3’ means to give the pet 3 days to detox from the shelter environment. Your home is most likely very overwhelming to the animal, and it will take a few days for them to settle down.

The following ‘3’ refers to the number of weeks it will take for the pet to get comfortable with the adopter’s routine, for example, eating and exercising. During this transition period, they will start to show more of their personality. As for truly settling in and learning that the adopter’s house is their forever home, this will take around 3 months, which is what the last ‘3’ represents.

While it may not be completely smooth sailing, and it differs depending on the pet and their past, this is a general rule we at LCHS like to share with new pet owners, teaching them to give their pet time.

After giving the pet a few weeks to adjust to its new schedule, if the adopter still sees behavioral problems, such as separation anxiety, that they would like to address, this is when we would encourage them to seek help.

Success Story - Previously Adopted “Coy,” now “Kota”

Coy, renamed Kota, adopted from LCHS back in April of 2020, is a fantastic example of a dog, who, thanks to the neverending love and dedication of his adopter, has come so far in settling into his home and overcoming some severe separation anxiety. According to Mrs. Bice, Kota’s adopter, “He was terrified in the shelter and was terrified of me… I was determined to at least give him a chance at home.”

Although Kota fit right into their home, they definitely had some work to do. Bice says, “He has some serious separation anxiety as expected. We spoke with our vet about the issues and he put him on anxiety medications, which have helped tremendously.”