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Separation Anxiety in Dogs

We know just how special the bond between dog and owner is, but sometimes having such a strong connection with your pet can have a downside. When it comes time to leave your dog alone for any period of time, you may find they become extremely distressed at your departure, and you may come home to find the house destroyed. Separation anxiety can take an emotional toll on both owner and pet, so for your pup’s sake, read on to learn how you can help them.

Symptoms

For anyone that’s had a dog with separation anxiety, you know that the problem can result in a wide range of undesirable behaviors including:

  • Constant whining, barking and howling
  • Inappropriate urinating or defecating
  • Destructive behavior such as chewing or scratching furniture
  • Escape attempts
  • Panting, salivating or sweating

Although the list of symptoms is extensive, be careful not to attribute any similar signs to separation anxiety. Symptoms such as incontinence or excessive drooling may be signs of a medical problem. Likewise, destructive or attention seeking behavior may simply be caused by boredom.

Why do some dogs develop separation anxiety?

There are a number of reasons why a particular dog may develop separation anxiety, and it may not always be possible to determine the exact cause.

Dogs are extremely social animals, and the bonds they form with their owners can be very strong. If a dog is not used to being separated from their owners, the sudden change can cause them great distress. Changes to the household may also trigger separation anxiety, such as moving house, a family member moving away, a new addition to the family, or the death of another pet – particularly another dog.

Some dogs and dog breeds are simply more anxious by nature, and as a result, are much more likely to display separation anxiety. These breeds include German shepherds, cocker spaniels, Labradors, greyhounds, bichon frises, King Charles spaniels, border collies, and toy poodles.

Treatment for separation anxiety

When starting out on treatment for separation anxiety, remember that the primary goal is not to spot undesirable behavior, but to reduce your dog’s feelings of stress and isolation.

For mild cases, consider:

  • Giving your dog a treat each time you leave home
  • Don’t make a big deal out of your arrivals and departures
  • Leave your dog with something that smells like you, such as an old t-shirt
  • Exercise your dog before you plan to go out – a tired dog is less likely to be anxious

If your dog suffers from extreme anxiety, treatment can involve both desensitization and counterconditioning. This can be complicated and time-consuming, but ultimately worth the effort to make your dog happier and healthier. This involves training your dog to be alone by starting with very short absences then building up to longer ones, changing your pre-departure cues, and possibly speaking to your vet about medication.

Preventing separation anxiety

Obviously, the best thing for your dog is to prevent separation anxiety from developing in the first place. When getting a new puppy, make sure you allow time for prevention as well as for training, and this will save you and your dog distress in the future.

Although you may not wish to leave a new puppy unsupervised for extended periods, make sure they get used to having some time alone, even if it’s just for short periods at a time. At this stage as well, it is especially important that they can associate your departures with positive experiences such as treats or toys.

From an early age, puppies should also be used to crating and find it a comforting experience. This is not only helpful for separation anxiety but other fears such as thunderstorm phobia or problems with vet visits.

Dos and don’ts

  • Don’t punish your pet for bad behavior during your absence, it will only increase their anxiety.
  • Do consider getting a pet sitter or walker if you are absent for long periods of time.
  • Don’t ignore the signs of separation anxiety – it will not resolve on its own.
  • Do speak to a professional if your dog’s anxiety is getting worse.

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

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