Separation Anxiety in Dogs

You will have no doubt heard that a dog is a man’s best friend. But perhaps you haven’t considered that the reverse may also be true.

A dog’s best friend can be their owner. If they are ever parted, the resultant effects on the dog can be very serious indeed. If you own a dog and notice that your pet destroys items around the house while you are away, or never leaving your side when you return, or goes absolutely potty upon your arrival, or gives you suspicious glances even before you leave, then it is highly possible you have a case of separation anxiety on your hands.

Other signs to look for in a dog that has been left alone include howling, barking and whining, unrelenting chewing and the emptying of both the bladder and bowels, even if the dog is fully house-trained. Since you will not be around to see these signs for yourself, it may be advisable to record your dog while it’s home alone if you suspect your dog’s behaviour may need closer attention.

It remains unknown why some dogs exhibit signs of separation anxiety and others don’t. Some scenarios have been identified which could be possible triggers for separation anxiety.

These include the first time the dog is left alone, particularly if it is accustomed to being in constant human company, a traumatic experience such as the first visit to a shelter or a kennel, and changes to the household’s routine.

Studies have shown that far more dogs who are adopted from shelters exhibit signs of separation anxiety than those who aren’t. This has led to the theory that separation anxiety is caused by the loss of a very important figure or figures in the dog’s life. Other dogs may develop separation anxiety when there is little around the house to keep them occupied.

So, what is to be done in order to help your dog? First you must establish that your dog has anxiety and eliminate all other possible causes, such as side-effects of medication or incomplete house training. If their anxiety appears to be only mild, it is recommended that you do not make too much of a fuss over your dog to begin with and then give them a calm and friendly pet when a few minutes have elapsed.

You may also wish to leave an item of clothing that smells of you with your dog so that the familiar scent can comfort them. Alternatively, you can introduce a specific word or action to your dog that will remind them of your intention to return. Should the problem become more severe, then you can take further action.

To begin with, if you haven’t already done so, you should familiarize your dog with the sit-stay and down-stay commands. A dog who is knowledgeable of these will know they can stay happily and safely in one place while you go to the next. You should also consider creating a safe space for your dog to stay in while you are away. Should you opt to do this, remember to include a few key items to ensure your dog stays relaxed and happy.

These include making sure the room has windows, so that the dog does not feel boxed-in and isolated.

An assortment of toys should be readily on hand to provide a means of distraction and activity and finally some unwashed clothes containing your scent should be strewn around to remind them you are near and that you intend to come back to them. “Crating” your dog should be strongly discouraged.

Not only will your dog’s symptoms of separation anxiety continue whilst they are caged, but they may worsen and your dog may even injure itself, urinate or defecate while attempting to escape. Be patient. Your dog will need time to overcome their panic responses to your leaving. There are a few things you can do in order to make the transition period easier for you both.

You could consider leaving your dog with a friend or family member in your absence, or you may wish to contact your vet to inquire about any anti-anxiety treatments that may be available. Leaving your dog at a special day-care facility may also be an option for you.

Or, if it is at all possible, you may consider taking your dog with you to wherever it is that you are going. During this period, you should also provide your dog with plenty of mental and physical stimulation, as this too can be useful in overcoming forms of anxiety. Taking them for frequent walks or playing games such as fetch are particularly suitable in these circumstances.

Should your dog enjoy playing with other dogs, by all means unleash them and let them frolic together. There are a number of steps you should avoid. First, do NOT punish your dog for exhibiting traits of separation anxiety. All punishment will do is exacerbate the situation.

It is also unwise to bring another dog in to keep yours company, as separation anxiety stems from your dog being separated from you and has nothing to do with general loneliness or being alone.

Leaving the TV or radio on while you’re away will also have no effect on your dog’s separation anxiety. Remember that separation anxiety isn’t the result of any bad behaviour on the part of your dog, so obedience training beyond that which it already has will also prove fruitless. If you find you need more assistance with fixing your dog’s separation anxiety, you should contact an animal behavioural specialist for further advice and guidance.

Remember, a dog is for life and not for Christmas. Taking swift steps to resolving any issues your dog faces mean you will have more time to live life to the full together.

Disclaimer

This article is for educational and informational purposes only and must not be used or taken as a substitute in any form for any medical advice, medication you are currently taking or any alternative treatments without the prior advice, guidance and consent from your medical doctor. Please speak with your doctor fist before making any changes to your diet or medicine as a result of reading any information laid out on this website or in this or any other articles.

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