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Separation Anxiety in Dogs and How to Help it

Updated: Mar 29

When left alone, pets experience separation anxiety leading them to exhibit destructive behavior when their owners are away for extended periods. This can be especially true if a sudden change in your schedule has you leaving the house more often for extended periods than in the past. Some examples of destructive behavior include:

  • Digging and scratching at doors

  • Chewing objects and furniture

  • Howling, barking, and whining

  • Urination and Defecation

  • Escaping

  • Pacing


What Causes Separation Anxiety?

it is mainly caused when the owner leaves the house for extended periods. It's not fully understood what causes separation anxiety, and it is important to remember that it is not the result of disobedience or training. It is a distress response to your absence for long periods. Common causes include:

  • Being left alone for the first time

  • Being left alone when accustomed to constant interaction

  • Suffering from a traumatic event such as time away from you in a boarding kennel

  • Change in the family routine or structure

  • Loss of a family member or other pet

  • Change in guardian or family

  • Change in residence


How to Treat Mild Separation Anxiety

Counterconditioning is the first method. It is a treatment process that changes an animal's fearful or anxious reaction into a pleasant one. It involves associating the sight or presence of a disliked object, person, place, or situation with something positive. Over time, the dog will learn that whatever they fear will bring positive things to them. This can be achieved by offering your dog some sort of puzzle toy filled with a treat before you leave which will keep them busy while you're gone.


How to Treat Severe Separation Anxiety

Providing your dog with plenty of physical and mental stimulation can help decrease their stress and provide healthy outlets for your dog to express their behaviors. Giving them any sort of exercise or stimulation before you leave will not only keep them physically healthy, but it will make them too tired to engage in destructive behaviors while you are gone.


Get your dog accustomed to being alone by going on short separation sessions that don't produce anxiety. Gradually increase the length of the sessions. It may take a large amount of time to build your dog up to 40-minute sessions or longer, as most of their symptoms of anxiety manifest within the first 40 minutes of being alone. Make sure to be very calm and quiet when exiting and entering during these sessions to lower the contrast between when you're there and when you're not. You will have to be the judge of when your dog can tolerate longer sessions of separation, as each dog reacts differently.


Medications may help if your dog is still engaging in destructive behaviors. Consult with your veterinarian before providing your dog with any medication for a behavior problem. Medications can be very helpful in situations of severe separation anxiety and can help your dog tolerate certain levels of isolation.


What Not to Do

Punishment: Do not punish your dog for any destructive or anxious behavior caused by separation anxiety. Their behavior is not a form of disobedience, it is a distress response to you being away from them. Punishment may worsen the situation, and they may become more upset.


Introducing another dog or pet: Separation anxiety comes from your dog's anxiety of being separated from you, not from being alone.


Crating: Your dog will still engage in anxiety responses ( urination, defecation, Howling) inside a crate, and may even injure themselves trying to escape from it.


Radio/Noise: Leaving on the radio or TV while you're gone won't help with your dog's separation anxiety unless it is a cue to reassure them that you will return home.


Alternative Solutions

It may take your dog a long time to adjust to the methods that you are trying and to unlearn the panic responses that it displays while you are gone. While your dog is still learning to adjust, some intern solutions involve the following:

  • Take your dog to an established doggie daycare

  • Leave your dog with a friend, family member, or neighbor willing enough to host them while you're gone

  • If possible, take your dog to work with you


Conclusion

It is important to remember that your dog's anxious behavior is a distress response and not a form of disobedience. If your dog is engaging in destructive behavior due to separation anxiety, try some of the above methods to alleviate their anxiety. Call us at 559-434-5470 to learn more about separation anxiety, or if you want to book an appointment today


 

Resources

  1. The Human Society of the United States. How to help a dog with anxiety


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