What You Should Know About Dog Separation Anxiety
Owning a dog is one of the most rewarding experiences one can have. After all, what is more rewarding than having something that loves you unconditionally and is always excited to see you, no matter what you’re dealing with, or what kind of day you’ve had?
Unfortunately, having a dog around also means dealing with their problems. Issues such as potty training and barking are very common and well-known, but other issues can sneak up on unsuspecting owners and eventually become quite the burden. One of those issues is dog separation anxiety.
While owning a dog is certainly rewarding and fulfilling in many ways, it also requires a lot of work and problems to be dealt with. Dogs don’t (usually) come pre-trained, and since they are animals, they are prone to behavioral issues that can very well drive someone up the wall and even create a somewhat hostile atmosphere.
Separation anxiety might not seem like a big deal at first, and may something you might assume a dog can simply “grow out” of, but that’s almost never the case. Such issues require a proactive approach to be fixed for the long run.
What is Separation Anxiety?
If you own a dog, it’s probably no secret to you that your dog hates it when you aren’t home. Some dogs take this reality harder than others. Dogs that severely act out in your absence suffer from what’s known as dog separation anxiety.
This disorder can be manifested in numerous ways, such as destructive chewing, whining, barking, trying to break out of a crate, scratching walls and doors, going to the bathroom on the floor, and several other signs.
This is a result of your dog having intense distress when you leave. Dogs with separation anxiety can not become a nuisance to your home, but a danger to themselves as well.
While it’s true that every dog is at least somewhat upset when you leave, and overly excited when you return, some can take this behavior to the extreme, and need to be properly dealt with before things get even worse.
Signs of Dog Separation Anxiety
There are several signs of separation anxiety, but it’s important to not mistake them for bad behavior, or what’s known as simulated separation anxiety. This occurs when your dog is rewarded with treats or attention for bad behavior.
Even negative attention can be considered as a reward for dogs that act out, thus making them repeat their behavior over and over to receive what they perceive as a reward. This is simulated separation anxiety, and is an entirely different issue that can be fixed with some basic training.
True separation anxiety occurs when your dog’s bad behaviors are relegated to when you are absent. This includes you coming home to a potty trained dog that has relieved itself on your floor, chewed on baseboards and furniture, scratched walls and even windows, or broken their crate or cage.
If your dog is relatively well-behaved when you are home, but seems to have numerous issues when you are away, it most likely has separation anxiety. Other signs can include your dog salivating incessantly before you leave, and non-stop barking and whining while you are gone.
Why Do Dog Develop Separation Anxiety?
There is no exact science as to why some dogs develop this and some don’t but there are several factors that can bring on separation anxiety in dogs.
Changing of ownership or family can sometimes set it off, or even the loss of another pet. Changes in your schedule can throw your dog off as well, as well as moving to a new home, or if your dog has started a new medication.
What to Do if Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
The degree of severity can differ, but there a few choice methods you can do to address the issue.
Gradually Increase Your Absence
Sometimes separation anxiety can be helped by getting your dog used to you being gone in the first place. For example, begin by leaving your home for just a few minutes, and always without saying bye to your dog. Start with five minutes, and eventually work your way up to 30, and then an hour.
Another effective step to help with this is to confuse your dog with clues that you’re leaving. Dogs can eventually get privy to when you are leaving by recognizing actions such as picking up keys and putting on. You can counteract this by doing these actions throughout the day, but without leaving.
Avoid Causing a Scene When Leaving or Coming Home
Going out of your way to comfort your dog and give them extra attention before you leave only serves to make the situation worse, as it drives home the reality that you are leaving. You are almost building the dog up to be left in a way.
When you come home, give your dog a nice pat on the head, and then ignore the dog until he/she calms down. This helps to create a more consistent atmosphere whether you are there or not.
There are plenty of other things you can do to help your dog overcome separation anxiety.
- Giving your dog treats before you leave, such as a KONG bone filled with peanut butter or kibble gives that something to look forward to when you leave. Chew toys as well.
- 30 minutes of aerobic exercise for your dog each day is a minimum recommendation. If you have time, try to play with your dog and tire it out if you are going to be gone for an extended period.
- If you crate your dog while gone, encourage them to use the crate even when you are home by placing treats, chew toys, and blankets inside. This will cause them to see the crate as their very own personal space, rather than a sort of prison cell while you are away.
Leaving a previously-worn t-shirt with your dog can help to calm them as well. Your smell will be on it, which helps to make them feel like your presence is there in a way.