Does Your Dog Have Separation Anxiety? Here is How You Can Help
Whether you’re heading off to work first thing in the morning, running midday errands or heading out to dinner with your spouse, it’s not uncommon to leave your furry companion alone throughout the day. While some whining and general distress may occur upon your departure, if your dog consistently becomes super stressed, nervous or even destructive while you’re away, especially if you’re only gone for brief periods of time, they may suffer from separation anxiety.
Along with causing serious emotional distress, the negative behaviors that result from separation anxiety can be large contributing factors as to why many dogs are returned or rehomed after adoption.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
While there is no proven cause for separation anxiety in dogs, it’s thought to be caused by factors such as:
- Change in guardian or family
- Update in schedule
- Moving a residence
- Upsate in household residence
Separation anxiety also tends to occur more in pets that have been adopted later on in life as opposed to puppies. Dogs may also develop separation anxiety when left alone for the first time after being accustomed to constant human presence.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can present itself in a number of ways; however, it is often marked by disruptive or destructive behaviors when your dog is left alone. These can include:
- Accidents (i.e. urinating or defecating inside)
- Coprophagia (defecating and then eating it)
- Excessive barking or howling
- Trying to escape
Not only can these cause damage to your home, but, left unchecked, some behaviors can cause self-injury or harm such as broken teeth, cut and scraped paws and damaged nails. If your dog happens to escape while you are away, they risk the possibility of becoming lost, stolen or worse.
It is important to note that separation anxiety and boredom are not the same thing.
Boredom-related incidents occur after your pet has been left alone for extended periods of time (such as an hour or more). If you’re only gone for a short amount of time (such as a half hour) and your dog has exhibited some of the behaviors mentioned above, they are more than likely suffering from separation anxiety rather than boredom.
How You Can Help
Before implementing any sort of behavior modification, consult with your veterinarian to rule out any possible medical conditions that might be contributing to your pup’s disruptive tendencies.
After determining whether your pup is actually suffering from separation anxiety, there are a few actions you can take to help them.
If your dog has a mild case of separation anxiety…Experts recommend counterconditioning. This is the process of implementing positive associations, such as treats or toys, with being alone. To do this, offer a special treat, such as a KONG stuffed with low-fat peanut butter, when leaving the house. Upon your return, remove the treat to establish that your pup will only get the special item when you’re gone. Aside from administering and confiscating their treat, avoid making a big deal of your departures and arrivals.
For more moderate to severe cases…You will have to dedicate a little more time to your dog’s counterconditioning. Start with short separations and gradually increase their duration over the course of weeks and daily sessions.
If your dog becomes anxious or whines when you’re preparing for your departure (i.e. putting on your shoes, grabbing your purse or keys, etc.), gradually ease their anxiety by exposing them to these behaviors and not leaving. For example, you can lace up your sneakers and opt to lounge around the house. While this may take quite a bit of time, it can be an effective step in helping to lessen separation anxiety. Once they become more comfortable with the signs of your departure, you can try leaving for short amounts of time.
Enlist the help of a professional behavioral specialist to help you develop a plan that works best for you and your dog.
Other ways you can help…
Along with behavior modification training, there are a few other practices you can implement.
- Leave out clothes that smell like you or other family members.
- If possible, take your dog with you when you leave the house.
- Arrange for a trusted friend or family member to stay with them while you’re away.
- Consider dropping your pet off at a dog-sitter or doggy daycare.
- Look into crate training, but beware – for some dogs, creates can increase anxiety.
- Make sure your dog receives plenty of exercise throughout the day.
- Talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medication.
Finally…Remember that your dog’s behavior is caused by stress, not disobedience.
Avoid scolding or punishing your pup to prevent them from becoming even more upset.
At Hi-Standard, we think your best friend deserves to be fed the highest standard of dog food. We have a variety of formulas fit for your pup’s active lifestyle. Questions on which one is best for them? Contact us today!