Is your dog suffering from separation anxiety?
Do you come home from work to find your dog has clawed the front door or left destruction all over the lounge room? It is very common for pet parents to notice destructive or noisy behavior when their dogs are left alone. Dogs can urinate, bark, howl, chew, dig and escape or even destroy items. Some owners will interpret this behavior as an out of control dog that needs training. This, however, can be true, but these symptoms are also a sign of separation anxiety.
You may notice your dog showing signs of distress like drooling or being unsettled when you get ready to leave the house. The separation anxiety gets triggered when the dog sees you preparing to leave the house such as putting your shoes on or grabbing your bag. The dog then becomes upset and distressed with the people they are attached to. Dogs can suffer self-injury from escape attempts and go through household destruction most likely around exit points in the home likes doors and windows.
Once you have left home and shut the door or gate the dog will often start showing distressing signs like barking, whimpering and scratching at the door. When the owner returns home the dog will act overly excited like he has not seen them for years. If you are coming home to the neighbors complaining about your dog barking all day or find your shoes chewed up into a million pieces, then your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety.
How you can help a dog with separation anxiety
- Before you leave tire your dog out. Take your dog for a long strenuous walk, play games with them outside in the fresh air. Reward your dog afterwards with their favorite treat. The idea of doing this is to make your dog tired, so they will rest while you’re gone instead of becoming bored and destructive.
- Don’t make a big deal with you are leaving for the day. Don’t make eye contact or pat your dog before you go. This helps the dog to understand you are leaving and it isn’t a big deal. This may need to be done in conjunction with other tips, this typically doesn’t work on its own.
- If you have trouble with not being able to say goodbye to your dog and doing the whole no eye contact thing, then you can say goodbye to your dog but do it well before you leave. Share some affection with your dog long before you go. Remember that this is for you not for the dog. The dog will not be hurt if you don’t say goodbye.
- Get your dog used to being alone in small bursts. Leave the dog alone for bursts of 5 mins. Do this a couple of times a day then gradually extend the time you are away for each day.
- When you leave for work, put the television or radio on. Studies have shown that dogs left alone can benefit from a calming effect of human voices while you are not home.
Treatment for Separation Anxiety
While the tips above have been known to work well if your dog has severe separation anxiety you will need a more complex plan in place. It is crucial to gradually leave the dog alone for short times and progressively increase those times once the dog seems comfortable.
If the dog is still showing distress when being left alone after you have practiced in short burst you may need to turn to desensitization, counterconditioning programs. These are complex and are quite complicated to put into place. You must avoid fear otherwise the dog will become more scared, and the procedure will end up a failure. The treatment must be matched with the pet’s reaction, and as we can interpret responses differently, it is essential to get a trained professional to carry this out. You can contact a board-certified vet behaviorist who specializes in this sector and will be able to help you determine the best plan for your dog.
Should you crate or not?
A lot of people have found positive changes in their dog from crate training them. The idea of crate training is to give the dog a safe place to go when they are left alone. Some dogs can be stressed and irritated by crate training so keep an eye on your dog for his reaction when being put in the crate. If you notice your dog is panting heavily, excessive saliva, barking and howling these are all signs of distress. It may only be the dog needs to get used to the crate so give it some time and crate your dog when you are home and close by. After a few attempts if the dog still shows signs of distress crate training isn’t for your dog.
Why Do Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety?
There is no evidence that shows the exact reason why dogs suffer from separation anxiety. Sometimes dramatic changes in a dog’s life can trigger separation such as:
- Being Abused or abandoned
- Different changes in your schedule like being home with the dog most of the time to working full time and leaving the dog for longer more frequent times.
- The sudden death of a family member or that family member moved away
- Moving to a different residence
- Getting a new pet
- Some medical conditions
Things not to do
It is important not to punish your dog for his behavior. The behaviors he is showing is not the dog being disobedient but his response to feeling distressed. Punishing your dog will not stop the behaviors and will merely add to the stress and confusion your dog is already struggling through.
Work with your dog and keep a calm and patient approach. Always reward for any time they were left alone and coped well even if it is just for 5 mins. Most dogs with a plan in place can successfully deal with separation anxiety without the use of medications as vets use these once all other avenues have been exhausted.