One of the biggest issues dog owners face is the possibility of their dog developing separation anxiety. German Shepherds are no exception to this, though they are no more or less prone to developing the condition. In fact, it is not well-understood why some dogs develop the disorder while others do not. Part of the difficulty in studying it lies in the fact that it often presents with other medical or behavioural issues. The anxiousness may actually be tied to an underlying medical condition.
Knowing the signs of separation anxiety and understanding its causes can prepare you to deal with the condition if your dog begins to develop symptoms. Catching the signs early can help you to prevent it from getting worse.
What is German Shepherd Separation Anxiety?
While separation anxiety usually develops in puppies, it can also affect older dogs as well. It’s important not to dismiss the condition as something that can be addressed later, as the symptoms may get worse over time. When a dog experiences the disorder, they usually exhibit extreme stress, anxiety or fear over being left alone. There are a variety of symptoms associated with the distress a dog experiences, but almost all of them are tied to their fear of being separated from their owner or family members.
According to some studies, around 20 to 40% of dogs experience separation anxiety. The condition tends to be expressed in loud, destructive behaviours.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in German Shepherd Puppies
German Shepherd puppies may exhibit one or more of the signs of separation anxiety. While a single instance of these behaviours may be a one-off, seeing several signs at the same time can be a good indication that your GSD puppy is developing separation anxiety.
1. Urinating or defecating in the wrong place
The extreme fear that the dog experiences may make it urinate or defecate in places where it wouldn’t normally go. If this behaviour continues to happen while you or other family members are around, then it may not be a sign of separation anxiety. Still, it may be difficult to tell that this is a sign if your puppy is still being potty trained.
2. Anxious behaviours
There are a number of anxious behaviours that can be displayed by German Shepherd puppies who are suffering from the condition. Pacing, whining, or trembling are some of the most visible behaviours in otherwise calm dogs. Some dogs may even develop compulsive behaviours, such as spinning in place or pawing at objects.
3. Increased vocalisation
Barking is generally a normal behaviour for dogs, so long as there is a reason for them to do it. This is also dependent on the dog breed, as some breeds are quieter than others. German Shepherds are somewhat vocal, much like other working or herding dogs. However, if your German Shepherd puppy is constantly barking or howling when they are alone, then stops once you return, it may be a sign of the disorder.
4. Attempting to escape
Dogs that go through separation anxiety can become so terrified of being alone that they attempt to escape wherever it is they are confined. This is one of the more dangerous signs of the condition, as a German Shepherd puppy that escapes from a room or apartment on a high floor has a chance of falling. There is also the risk that the dog may hurt itself while trying to dig or chew through doors, fences, or windows.
Most dogs with separation anxiety will begin to display symptoms either as their guardian is preparing to leave, or after they have left. It may be difficult to catch these signs if your dog only displays these behaviours while you’re not at home.
Neighbours or friends may sometimes be able to provide information about what your dog does while you’re away. However, the more knowledge you have about how your dog acts when they’re alone, the better you’ll be able to diagnose their condition.
One good option is a home security system, if you already have one installed. Most of those types of systems offer nearly complete coverage of the household, and can be checked through the internet. If your home is smaller or you live in an apartment, you may opt for a pet camera if you don’t have a home security system.
One advantage of a pet camera is that it usually offers sound and video, whereas home security cameras often do not pick up the sound in the home. Many of the more advanced pet cameras actually allow you to see, hear, talk to, and give treats to your pet through an application on your phone. This may help ease symptoms of separation anxiety as your dog may feel comforted by your virtual presence.
Why Do German Shepherds Develop Separation Anxiety?
It’s not completely understood why some dogs develop the disorder while others do not. Some dogs may develop it from stressful events or traumatic separations – something that is often seen in shelter dogs.
Other dogs develop the condition because they’ve never been left alone. This is something that has been an issue due to the worldwide pandemic, as owners adopted or bought dogs during lockdowns, then had to leave the dogs for the first time when lockdowns ended.
How to Manage a German Shepherd Puppy’s Separation Anxiety
Most dogs will experience mild to moderate symptoms of separation anxiety. For severe cases where the dog is experiencing severe symptoms that could be harmful to their health and well-being, it is recommended that you approach your veterinarian for help. They may also direct you to a canine behaviourist for further assistance.
For cases that can be managed on your own, the overall goal is to ease the dog’s anxiety at being alone. This process can take a significant amount of time, and it may be unrealistic to expect immediate results. However, patient and consistent management can eventually help to lessen the symptoms or even remove the anxiety completely.
1. Change up your routine
German Shepherds can display very high intelligence. For German Shepherd puppies experiencing the disorder, it’s common for them to learn your routine when you’re preparing to leave, and they may begin to associate that routine with their fear of being alone.
To break up this routine, you can go through the motions of preparing to leave. Grab your keys and get dressed, then sit down on the couch instead of leaving. You can do this periodically throughout the day.
2. Be calm when leaving or returning
With German Shepherd puppies, they can be so adorable that we get happy and excited when we get home and see them, or we make a big deal of saying goodbye to them when we leave.
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being affectionate with your puppy, these actions can teach your puppy that your arrival or departure is a significant event. It also teaches the puppy that they get rewarded with attention for uncontrolled emotions.
A better approach is to be calm and composed when you leave the house or return. You can wait a minute or two until your puppy calms down, then go ahead and greet them when they’re better behaved. This teaches your puppy that there’s a time and a place for being happy and excited, and that they have to wait for your cue before they’re allowed to behave that way.
3. Get them accustomed to you leaving and returning
German Shepherd puppies may think of your departure as a special event if you don’t leave the house very often, or only leave for extended periods of time. Most new dog owners will spend a significant amount of time at home to care for their new pup, and the puppy may not be accustomed to you leaving them alone.
One way to address this is to leave repeatedly, but only for short periods of time. A couple of minutes is enough to start with, then you can start staying out for longer while building up the puppy’s confidence that you’ll always return.
Some puppies may immediately become vocal and upset as you leave the house. In these cases, you may need to leave and close the door, then immediately reopen the door and step back inside.
Others may take a couple of minutes to realise that you’ve left, then begin displaying symptoms of separation anxiety. For those puppies, it’s best if you return just as they start any unwanted behaviours.
4. Give your dog lots of exercise
Tired dogs are much less likely to display symptoms of separation anxiety. A properly-exercised puppy will have almost no energy to spare on destructive or unhealthy behaviours, and will generally be mentally stimulated enough that they won’t be bored while you’re away.
For German Shepherd puppies, they need roughly an hour to an hour and a half of vigorous exercise per day. We understand that this may be a lot, but thankfully this exercise can be split up into smaller chunks of time.
A half-hour walk in the morning and a half-hour walk in the evening are usually enough for most German Shepherd puppies, so long as they also get a 30-minute training and play session sometime during the day.
Separation Anxiety in German Shepherds is a Treatable Condition
It’s not the end of the world when your puppy experiences separation anxiety. There are lots of resources to help you deal with the condition, and many steps you can take to manage it on a daily basis.
To minimise the chances of your dog developing the condition, always be sure to get your dogs from a reputable, ethical breeder. Doing so will lessen the chances of underlying medical conditions that may contribute to your dog developing the disorder.