How a Dog’s Behavior May Change During a Separation or a Divorce

Dog's behavior during divorce

When a separation or a divorce becomes necessary, every member of the family is affected, including your dog. The upheaval and change that comes with a broken family unit leads to a lot of uncertainty for pets who can start to show signs of stress. If you are going through a separation or divorce, there are some things you can do to help your dog through the transition process.

How Does Stress from a Separation or Divorce Affect Dogs?

Dogs are not referred to as man’s best friend for no reason at all. Our fave canine companions are extremely intuitive, reacting to our every emotion and making every effort to provide comfort and support. Our dogs are easily able to recognize when we are experiencing pressure, stress, anxiety, or sadness. Dogs that have been witness to things such as family arguments and the silent treatment, pick up on these tensions as well. When this happens, your dog may respond with behavioral changes and may even slip into their own depression.

Dogs thrive when their home has a consistent routine that they can count on every day. One of the biggest changes that comes with divorce is new habits. Since there are fewer members of the family in the household to handle necessary chores, schedules must change. This is very stressful for a dog that is used to things happening at a certain time of day every day.

But more than just a change in schedule, dogs may also have to deal with being shuttled between houses if the family members each want to maintain time with their dog. This means the dog getting used to an unfamiliar environment and a new set of rules and habits. All of this can cause setbacks in the dog’s training and may even lead to accidents in the house as a result of stress.

When a family breaks up, dogs grieve the loss of the person that moves out. The family unit is a comprehensive whole to them, and when one person is missing, the loss is immense for a dog. In cases of homes with multiple pets, often one dog will go with one partner while the other stays behind. This too is very painful for a dog who essentially loses a canine brother or sister with the breakup.

Though shared custody often seems like the ideal solution, this too is fraught with anxiety for the dog. Everything from the dog’s home to its neighborhood, routine, and new family life is challenging for the dog and can lead to intense feelings of stress and discomfort.

What are Some Ways Dogs Upset by a Divorce Exhibit Stress?

There are many different ways dogs communicate they are feeling stressed or anxious. These include:

  • Separation anxiety

Dogs struggling with separation anxiety as a result of a family separation or divorce may exhibit many different symptoms. Some of the most common indications a dog is suffering from separation anxiety include accidents in the home, chewing, digging, and even excessive barking.

Solving these problems requires a lot of compassion and patience. When a dog’s behavior is met with anger, yelling, or frustration, the dog’s stress is deepened, leading to more of the same undesirable actions. The simplest way to help a dog find relief from stress associated with separation anxiety is to crate the dog when no one is at home and to make crate time special by providing the dog with extra yummy treats, a new toy, or a bone to chomp on during the owner’s absence. The crate provides a feeling of security for the dog while the treat, toy, or bone offers a healthy distraction.

Other solutions include a collar which emits pheromones to help reduce stress and anxiety or visits to doggy day care.

  • Feelings of depression

Though some dogs experience separation anxiety with a divorce in the family, others instead slip into a depressed state. In some cases, dogs undergo a combination of the two issues. Dogs that struggle with depression exhibit similar symptoms as people do. The most common signs of depression in dogs are lack of energy, increased sleeping, loss of interest in activities, appetite changes, compulsive behaviors such as excessive paw licking or barking, and withdrawing from family life.

In many cases, the symptoms of depression in dogs subside given time as the dog adjusts to its new normal. However, some dogs do need medication to help them overcome their deep sense of sadness and loss.

  • Aggressive tendencies

When change happens in a dog’s life, sometimes the dog simply doesn’t know how to respond and instead lashes out with aggressive behavior. In the face of deep stress and loss, some dogs will do things they have never done before such as bite, snap, or growl; even at those they love most. When this happens, it is vital to get the dog help right away. A qualified canine behaviorist and a veterinarian can help you determine the best way to support your dog through these issues.

  • Intensified resource guarding

Dogs from homes undergoing divorce can begin to feel very protective of the remaining members of their family. Since one or more family members no longer resides in the dog’s primary residence, the dog may feel the need to keep alert watch over those who still live in the home with him. This can result in intensive resource guarding which may include lunging, barking, biting, and snapping at anyone that comes near their family members. This is also a very serious situation that requires assistance from a professional dog trainer to successfully resolve. The root cause of this behavior is insecurity. The dog fears the loss of the remaining family members in its life and is working to prevent that from occurring. Boosting the dog’s confidence is crucial to the dog moving past these behaviors that can be very dangerous and that are also quite stressful for both the dog and his owner.

How Can I Support My Dog During My Divorce?

Providing the right supports for your dog will help your best canine pal to move past the grieving period more quickly and to acclimate to his new life.

Here are some things you can expect to see and some tips to help ease the transition for your dog:

Dog's behavior during separation

Recognize and respect your dog’s grief
It is quite normal for your dog to mourn the loss of his family members. Grief is a normal part of the healing process. Provide support for your dog through additional time spent with you. The close companionship of cuddling on the couch or an extra dog walk will help alleviate your dog’s suffering.

Realize things will get easier with time

It helps to bear in mind that this sense of loss will not last forever. Try to maintain as normal a routine as possible for your dog. This will help immeasurably in coping with the sense of grief and abandonment.

Provide mental stimulation for your dog when you are out
Toys that engage your dog’s brain as well as his jaws help to prevent boredom and also keep him occupied during times of sadness.

Keep trips out short
You have to leave the house to run your errands, and it is good for your dog to learn that when you must go out that you do return. Keep your trips out to no more than an hour whenever possible, building on the duration you are away as your dog shows he is more at ease with your absence. This will help to build your dog’s confidence levels.

To help keep your dog from panicking, it is a good idea to take him for a walk before you head out for your errands.

Avoid any drastic changes
If you were considering adding another pet (or person) to your home, now is not the right time to introduce more change. Establish a predictable routine that your dog can come to expect each day. Once your dog is comfortable with this, you can then consider making small changes.

Consider veterinary assistance
Sometimes, you can try everything you can think of to do, and it still doesn’t help. If that’s the case for your dog, don’t be afraid to speak to your veterinarian. There are some holistic supplements that can help reduce stress. If these prove ineffective, a stronger prescription medication may provide the temporary relief your dog needs to weather this storm.

Are dogs affected by divorce? They most definitely are. Follow our top tips to help Fido adapt to his new way of life. You just might find some comfort for your own heart in the process.

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