Separation anxiety is what pet owners call the unhappy and stressed demeanor of their dogs. It is said that while we humans sit or walk or play with our dogs to keep our mind off everything else going on around us, our dogs have the one-track mind of being present with us. It is their greatest joy to spend time with their owners and like all love relationships, being away from us takes a heavy toll on them.
Symptoms of separation anxiety include:
- Excessive barking and/or salivation
- Defecation or urination inside the house
- Destruction to property such as furniture and scratching at floors, walls, and doors
- Injuries from escape attempt in severe cases
It can either be simulated or real. Simulated anxiety is learned behavior for dogs that have control issues or lack strong leadership or a cry for attention. It can be overcome by additional obedience training, lots of exercises to dispense of all that extra energy and spending more time with your dog being a strong leader.
Real separation anxiety has many causes:
“Grand exits” by dog owners act as a reward for the concern the dog shows for our absence. As puppies, our dogs were used to accompanying us everywhere and this was their source of security and confidence. Leaving them alone as they get older unknowingly makes them feel abandoned at a time when they need us the most.
Pent-up energy in dogs that do not get enough exercise. Dogs are creatures of instinct and the moment they are left unsupervised with all that energy, they will feel the need to do what they are bred to do. Terriers dig, protection dogs get aggressive and retrievers displace things.
Once you identify the cause of this behavior in your dog as real and not simulated, we can get down to getting your beloved pet healthy again.
Ruling out any underlying health or behavioral issues. A visit to the vet will lay to rest any worries of incontinence or issues with digestion. It is also important to get clear advice on the side effects of any medication your dog may be on as some can cause bladder control problems. Improper or incomplete training could also cause potty issues and excessive barking or howling. Get chew toys for your juvenile dog and make it clear which items are yours and which ones the dog can chew on.
2. Boring exits and returns
Pre-departure anxiety will get your dog all worked up when they see you do things you do just before you leave. This can be treated simply by exposing the dog to things like picking up your keys or putting on your shoes and coat without actually leaving. This will reprogram the dog to disassociate those actions with you leaving.
3. Desensitization training
Your dog is afraid of being left alone and it is your core responsibility during the duration of the training to rid him/her of this fear to stay and leave only during the planned and timed periods of the training. In case you really have to leave, have a relative or sitter come in to take your place or take your dog to a familiar doggy daycare.
4. Drain their energy
Play with your dog just before you plan on leaving; or better yet, go for a long walk or run. A tired dog is a calm dog that will spend time alone to rest and revitalize their energy reserves.
5. Special toys
Another sure way of making sure your dog is busy whenever they are alone is using special toys that you hide away whenever you or anyone else is home. The perfect toy should combine fun and food. For example, a chew toy with a hollow interior within which you can hide tasty treats or foods like peanut butter or string cheese which your do thoroughly enjoys. Such a toy or toys will however only work on dogs with mild separation anxiety. Severe cases of separation anxiety will cause dogs not to have an appetite when their guardians are not at home.
6. Professional help
Moderate to severe cases of separation anxiety require for a more serious approach. A certified animal behaviorist can help you come up with sure ways of curing your dog of the fear and anxiety that causes the outbursts. Certified dog-training professionals are also well equipped to help with cases of separation anxiety. The invaluable advice you will get from these professionals will be specific to your dog and will go a long way in helping you identify and stop the little things you do before you walk out the door that triggers separation anxiety in your dog. It could be something as simple as petting your dog immediately before you leave or immediately you get home.
7. Absent but not gone
Leaving an item like a blanket that is unwashed but still clean lying around for your dog to find will be reassuring to the dog. Dogs use smell as a primary sense so having your scent lingering around from a used sock or towel will keep them calm. Make sure to leave the item in the area of the house that your dog likes to spend the most time when alone.