Have you ever experienced walking into your house to find your furniture upside down, deep claw marks and scratches on window sills, and messages from neighbors complaining about your dog’s never-ending barking and howling? Are you maybe familiar with the term “separation anxiety”? For some dogs being home alone can be very traumatic and result in destructive behavior. Separation anxiety is actually a very serious matter and is your dog’s panicked response to being left alone. While the solution is not always simple, there are some basic things you should know about separation anxiety in dogs.
What is separation anxiety in dogs?
Separation anxiety is a feeling some dogs get when they get separated form their owner, the people they’re attached to. It’s a pet’s exaggerated fear of separation. Separation anxiety commonly results in destructive and inappropriate behavior when an owner leaves the dog alone. Typically, separation anxiety and distress behaviors occur during the first hour of being alone or when their owner prepares to leave. Some dogs might even try to prevent their owner from leaving the house. Escape attempts by dogs with separation anxiety are often extreme and can result in self-injury and household destruction, especially around exit areas like windows and doors.
Separation anxiety often includes one or more of the following behaviors when you’re not at home:
- Destructive behaviors, such as chewing pillows or furniture, or relentless scratching at doors and windows
- Destroying objects
- Constant barking, whining, or howling
- Urinating indoors
- Attempting to “escape” a room or crate to the point of self-injury
- Physiological responses, such as dilated pupils or excessive panting
What causes separation anxiety in dogs?
It’s not completely understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and others don’t. Separation anxiety can result from suffering a traumatic experience, like being lost in unfamiliar surroundings, loss of a family member or other pet, or maybe from a past time at a shelter or boarding kennel. These are all scenarios that may trigger separation anxiety in dogs.
How to prevent separation anxiety
A good way to prevent separation anxiety is to make sure something good happens when you leave the house. Give your dog a toy stuffed with treats, a pig’s ear or something tasty to chew. Chewing is a great stress reliever for dogs and provides your pup with a strategy for calming down. You can also try to hide small treats around the house or in the crate to keep your dog busy and out of boredom. Another possibility is to make your dog tired before you leave. Give him plenty of physical and mental exercise, and quality time with you. When you then leave, he’ll be more content to sleep or just take it easy.
How to handle more severe cases of separation anxiety
If the behavior has gotten worse over time, medications may be needed to help your dog cope with the situation. In this case, always contact your veterinarian about drug therapy before you give your dog any kind of medication. The medications, that are used for separation anxiety, help reduce anxiety and allow your dog to return to a more normal state – a happier state. A good anti-anxiety drug shouldn’t sedate your dog, but simply reduce his overall anxiety.
If your dog still feels uncomfortable by being alone, there are a few options you could try:
- A dog sitter – ask a family member or neighbor to come sit with your dog while you are away.
- Take your dog with you to work – wouldn’t we all love to do this? But always ask your colleagues if they are okay with a dog in the office. Not everybody likes it!
- Take your dog to doggy daycare.
- Arrange a play-date. Maybe one of your dog-friends from the local park wants to bring your dog for a walk as well.
- Consider getting another dog. If you’ve thought about adopting a new family member, it’s a great way to see if a second dog could help the situation.
Last but not least…
Separation anxiety has little to do with training or discipline. Your dog’s behaviors are part of a strong emotional response to being left alone. So remember, your dog isn’t trying to punish you! He just wants you to come home! If Separation anxiety is left untreated, it causes damage to your house and belongings — and serious psychological suffering for your dog. For severe cases of separation anxiety, it is strongly recommended that you consult a professional.