Does your dog excitedly greet you, pouring plenty of affection and love when you get back home? If yes, have you noticed if he gets sad when you leave and sometimes freak out?
If that’s the case, your dog probably has separation anxiety.
It is a condition where a dog feels distressed whenever the owner leaves. Some dogs begin howling, try to escape, start barking, while others poop and get into all sorts of unusual (bad) behavior. Don’t punish your dog; that is torturing him.
We’re going to tell you all about separation anxiety in dogs and what you can do about it.
Why do dogs develop separation anxiety?For years, animal behavior experts have opined that a dysfunctional attachment between the owner and the pet is the root cause of separation anxiety. But an article in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior suggested otherwise. More recently, scientists have suggested that a dog may experience frustrations when separated from their owners. These frustrations are not necessarily linked to a hyper-attachment to the owner. The dog may be expressing these frustrations:
- They desire to get away from something in the house, yet they cannot.
- They desire to get something that is outside the home, yet they cannot.
- A reaction to external noises or events.
- They are expressing a form of boredom.
Many dog owners label separation anxiety as a form of overdependence on the owner. Thus, they focus on making the dog more independent. However, overdependence is not the cause.
Stephanie Gibeault, an expert with the American Kennel Club, suggests that traumatic experiences or sudden changes could be behind it. Also, unlike dogs adopted from shelters, dogs raised by single families from puppyhood are less likely to experience separation anxiety.
But there is no conclusive evidence pinning separation anxiety to specific causes. The best that an owner can do is prevent it or start treatment at first sight of the signs.
Read on and learn about the symptoms and what to do.
Signs that your dog has separation anxietyDoes your dog exhibit these signs immediately after you leave or when you are absent? He could be suffering from separation anxiety.
- Chewing or damaging items.
- Defecating or urinating indoors, and coprophagia (consuming excrement).
- Barking and howling.
- Digging through doorways or attempting escape through windows.
- Pacing, and other anxious behavior.
- Excessive drooling
These responses could result in self-injury or property damage. It is best to address the issue while it is still mild. In case the separation anxiety is severe, the symptoms are more pronounced, and you may require the help of an animal behavior specialist to address it.
TreatmentBefore you treat separation anxiety, you need to be sure that it is indeed the problem, then take steps to address it. The first thing to do is to rule out other possibilities.
Rule out other possibilitiesFirst, rule out medical issues. Visit the vet and give the dog a good check-up. It will help you to cross out many illnesses that could cause symptoms like drooling or coprophagia.
Secondly, rule out other behavior issues. Does the dog urinate when excited or ‘ashamed’? Or does he still mark his territory? Perhaps he is still not well-trained. Or he is bored and lacks something to keep him busy while you are away. You could take him to a doggy daycare facility or get a pet sitter for him.
Address the issue that triggers anxietyIs the dog expressing anxiety due to one or more of the four frustrations? Get help from an animal behavior specialist and try to identify which one. Then proceed to eliminate it (where possible) and counter-condition the dog to associate separation with good things and not with the frustration. Counter conditioning is a complex process, and you may require assistance from an expert.
Change your routineSometimes the dog could be too familiar with your routine. He knows that freaking out could get some extra attention and affection. Break your routine. Pack up as if you are about to leave, grab your keys, then sit on the couch. It will help to stop the chain of events, and you can start training him anew.
Wear him outA tired dog is a happy one. Research shows that lack of exercise is the largest environmental factor associated with separation anxiety. Make sure your dog gets enough exercise and then has a calming bed to retreat to. These routines and exercises will help to keep the dog healthy and strong.
Start building new associations with separationAs you engage the dog in these treatments, begin incorporating short periods of absence from the dog. Give him treats whenever you leave and observe his behavior. Gradually increase the duration of separation as the dog gets accustomed to the safe separation.
During these sessions, remember to maintain a calm posture and demeanor whenever going out or coming in. Also, shrug him off (in a gentle way) if he gets excited when you come back.
When the dog can consistently withstand at least one hour of separation without exhibiting the symptoms, you have succeeded.
A final wordPerhaps you have been enjoying the love and affection your dog exhibits. But at the same time, you’ve been perplexed by his behavior when you are about to leave. Find out if he has separation anxiety. If it is the case, do not punish or withdraw love. Instead, use the steps above to address the issue.