WHAT IS SEPARATION ANXIETY?
Separation anxiety in dogs generally refers to a set of behaviors triggered by the anxious feeling your dog may experience when you leave home, change locations, or when they go from one guardian to another. While there’s no specific cause identified for how dogs develop this anxiety, most vets suspect it is largely related to either negative conditioning or a dramatic shift in a dog’s environment when they were young.
Wherever it comes from, the cause and effects are fairly typical across most pets. Separation anxiety often manifests as noticeable negative behaviors while you are away from home. If you’re concerned you dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, it’s important to pay close attention and compare how they act when you’re home and when you are not home. Obviously it’s difficult to watch them when you’re not home without a nanny-cam style set up, so the best thing to do is pay careful attention to how they act just as you leave and return. You can also look for tell-tale signs of destruction that seems out of character.
It can be stressful for both you and your dog to deal with this kind of anxiety, but there are treatments available along with methods of training or conditioning that can help your beloved pet relax when you have to leave.
SYMPTOMS OF SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS
Here are some of the most notable symptoms of separation anxiety. As you’ll notice, many of these could also be symptoms of other issues, or even regular activity based on your dog. Like with any other person or animal, it’s important to look for the context of these symptoms. Generally, to help identify separation anxiety, these would be symptoms that occur solely or more frequently in your absence, then subside when you are present.
1. Barking and Howling: If your dog barks and howls more than usual around the times you leave, while being relatively quiet or at least within the normal range of barking for most dogs the rest of the time, that could be a sign. In general, this will be very noticeable, as dogs suffering from separation anxiety will typically vocalize for much longer than, say, a dog barking at someone walking by or out of excitement.
2. Urinating and Defecating: With this symptom, you’ll want to consider the circumstances and other potential causes carefully. Of the several reasons your dog might experience unusual urination or defecation, the most common would be submissive/excitable urination, issues with house training, or a variety of other causes. That said, if you notice that your dog uses the restroom indoors more often while you’re away, it could mean they’re struggling with anxiety.
3. Being Destructive: Destruction caused by separation anxiety can manifest in different ways. Most dogs end up chewing, clawing, digging and tearing up furniture in the house. By doing so, dogs might result in severe self-injury, broken teeth, nails and bleeding gums. It’s also a good idea to look for marks around doors, windows, or anywhere else that dogs might be resting or watching for you when you leave or return.
4. Escaping: Escape or attempts at escape can also be fairly obvious signs of separation anxiety. If your dog is typically trying to make their way outside, even when you’re home, it could be a sign of some other stress factor at work. However, if you notice frequent attempts at escape as you leave, or those same concentrated marks around doors and windows that you see in destructive tendencies, it could certainly be separation anxiety.
TREATING SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS
There are several techniques you can use to try and ease your dog out of their anxious tendencies. However, if you’re worried that the symptoms are getting too severe, frequent, or otherwise disruptive, it may be a good idea to speak with your vet about routines, treatments, or potentially medication to help alleviate your pet’s stress.
1. Engage in some exercise with your dog before you leave. Giving them about half an hour of walking or playing can use up some of their energy, which may help stop their anxious feelings when you leave.
2. Have a special treat for your dog which you give to it only when you are leaving the house. This trains them into thinking that they will be given a special treat when you out of the house, making them feel that you will most certainly come back.
3. Don’t exaggerate your comings and goings too much. Keep your greetings low-key. When you come in the house, ignore your dog for a little bit and then when it calms down, you can say hello in a calm manner.
4. Another good idea is to leave out previously worn articles of clothing that smell like you. This may prevent the dog from feeling alone and unsafe. A dog’s strongest sense is it’s sense of smell. By stimulating it’s sense of smell, the dog can calm itself down on its own.
5. If you have particularly strange or long hours, it can be a good idea to have someone that will check on or walk your dog. In addition to forming bonds with you, your dogs also develop a schedule that they’re comfortable with, so it can be a good idea to help maintain that schedule as much as you can.
6. Dog training is a great way to help your dog overcome separation anxiety. Even though you can train your dog yourself, looking for a professional dog trainer might be a good idea. This can help you better understand your dog’s behaviors and reactions, which in turn can help you find ways to alleviate their stress.
7. If all else fails, your vet may be able to suggest or provide medication to reduce anxiety. Generally, you wouldn’t want to rely on medications more than necessary, and if you feel like this is your only option, discuss how best to approach separation anxiety with your vet. If you both determine that medication really is the only/best option, then they may be able to help you with a prescription.
Separation anxiety is fairly common for dogs, and while it’s not inherently dangerous, it is something that could escalate based on the severity and how that translates to various symptoms. Of course, you and your pet would likely be much happier without any separation anxiety at all! If you are concerned that your dog is exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, reach out to a veterinarian and get to the bottom of it. Some symptoms may overlap with more or less serious issues, so it’s important to have regular check-ups and to speak with a professional whenever you have concerns!