Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Have you ever noticed that when you leave the house, your dog becomes anxious? Perhaps you have come home from a trip to the grocery store and you didn't take your dog. When you walk in the door, the house is destroyed, stuffing is falling out of your favorite pillow and the trash can is turned upside down, with rubbish dragged from room to room. If this sounds like a situation that you are all too accustomed to, it is quite possible that your dog suffers from separation anxiety. This is a completely treatable behavioral problem that many dogs suffer from, but in order to treat it, you must first understand the root of the problem.
What It Is and Why Dogs Suffer
Separation anxiety in dogs occurs in both puppies and dogs that have already reached adulthood. Separation anxiety is when your dog suffers from extreme stress and behavioral issues when you leave him or her alone and it is very common, no matter what breed of dog you have. Your dog may become depressed, or in most cases, destructive when you leave the house. Left to their own devices, dogs with this issue will urinate, bark, dig, destroy and try to escape.
If you are wondering why your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, there are a few things for you to take into consideration. If your dog was adopted from a shelter, this is to be expected, especially since you do not know what kind of life the dog had prior to being taken to the shelter. They may have lost someone that was important to them in their life. This is the leading reason for behavioral problems in dogs. Smaller dogs are also more likely to exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety than large dogs. Other things, like changes in a routine, moving, or a family member's absence can all trigger a dog.
Signs and Symptoms
So, you suspect that your dog has separation anxiety issues. Some of the most common symptoms include, but are not limited to indoor accidents, persistent and annoying barking, destructive behavior, attempting to escape the house, and incessant pacing. If your dog has never had issues with urinating in the house but is now, it may be caused by separation anxiety. Some smaller breed dogs will bark endlessly for no reason if they become anxious when you leave the house, while others will pace back and forth in front of a door waiting for you to return.
Treatment for Separation Anxiety
If you have determined that your dog is actually suffering from separation anxiety, by coming to your own conclusions or having the problem diagnosed by a vet, you will need to take the proper steps so that your dog can get better and you can leave the house to go to work or run errands without having to worry that you will come home to massive wreckage. The first way you can go about trying to treat a dog with separation anxiety is by offering him or her a puzzle treat, like a Kong ball, with treats packed inside when you are going out the door. This will keep your pooch busy for a while and take his or her mind off of the fact that you left. Going forward, your dog may find himself excited for you to leave because he knows that he will get a tasty treat.
Let’s say that your dog’s separation anxiety is a bit more severe and the treat method isn't working. What do you do then? If your dog has a moderate to severe case of separation anxiety, you will want to speak with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. The ASPCA in your area will be able to help you find someone that can help your dog. These people will be able to assess your dog and work with you and the dog one on one to find a treatment method that is best for you. Some people suggest leaving a TV on so your dog doesn't feel so alone while you are not home. Other people will suggest putting your dog in a crate when you need to leave the house. There are also ThunderBlankets on the market today that are designed to embrace and calm dogs that are suffering from anxiety problems. Should none of these methods work for your dog, you may need to hire a pet sitter that your dog already feels comfortable with just to ease his anxiety about you leaving the house. You may find that there are periods of trial and error time that you will need to work through. Every dog is different and every case of separation anxiety may be different as well.
Older Dogs Vs. Puppies
Separation anxiety may be different in older dogs than it is in younger dogs. You may find that older dogs have underlying health issues that are actually to blame for a great deal of the problems. Some older dogs will experience hearing or vision loss that can make them even more anxious, and this anxiety will be increased when they are away from their owner. Puppies who are not used to being left alone yet will also become anxious but can be counter-conditioned more easily than an older dog.
If your dog is suffering from what you believe may be separation anxiety, you need to know what signs and symptoms to look for so that you can help to diagnose the problem. Should you discover that separation anxiety is a problem for your dog, young or old, you also need to know some ways that you can go about treating it without having to rush out to the vet, including keeping them busy with a puzzle treat, which also acts as positive reinforcement, crate training, and leaving a TV on so your dog doesn't get as worried or feel as alone. It is all about finding what works for your dog and then, you'll be golden!