Separation anxiety happens when highly attached furbabies become upset and super-stressed when they’re left alone by their pet parents. It’s a serious condition and possibly one of the main reasons owners get frustrated with their pets and give them up. Anxiety in pets may be present in ways that owners might easily mistake for behavioral issues.
There is no definite evidence showing exactly why dogs develop separation anxiety. However, dogs who have been adopted from animal shelters will most likely possess this stressful condition than those dogs who were kept by a single family since puppyhood. Other less dramatic changes can also trigger this disorder. Here is a list of situations that have been linked to the development of separation anxiety:
- Change of guardian or family
- Change in pet parent’s schedule
- Change in residence
- Change in household membership
Common Signs and Symptoms
- A dog who has separation anxiety shows a lot of stress when they’re left alone. They might:
- Urinate and defecate when left alone
- Bark, howl and whine to excess when separated with their pet parents
- Chew things up, dig holes, scratch at windows and doors, or destroy household objects
- Drool, pant or salivate way more than usual
- Pace, often in an obsessive pattern Try to escape
- Develop the condition known as Coprophagia, or when dogs defecate and then consume all or some of their excrement. In the situation of separation anxiety, the dog performs the behavior when the pet parent is not present.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine whether a dog has separation anxiety or not. Some common behavior conditions can cause similar symptoms. Before concluding that your dog has this disorder, it’s important to rule out the following behavior problems:
- Submissive or excitement urination. Some dogs may urinate during greetings, play, physical contact or when being punished.
- Incomplete house training. A dog who occasionally urinates in the house might not be completely house trained.
- Urine marking. Some dogs urinate in the house because they’re scent marking.
- Juvenile destruction. Many young dogs engage in destructive chewing or digging while their pet parents are at home as well as when they’re away.
- Boredom. Some dogs can be disruptive when left alone because they’re looking for something to do.
- Excessive barking or howling. Some dogs bark or howl in response to various triggers in their environment.
- Incontinence caused by medical problems. Some dogs’ house soiling is caused by incontinence, a medical condition in which a dog “leaks” or voids use of his bladder.
- Medications. There are a number of medications that can cause frequent urination and house soiling in dogs.
If your dog has a mild case of separation anxiety, these tips and tricks might help your furbaby:
- Give your dog a special treat each time you leave. Try giving your pup a KONG® or puzzle toy stuffed with something really tasty that will take him at least 20 to 30 minutes to finish. Only give them this treat when you’re gone, and take it away when you get home.
- Make your entries and exits low-key without a lot of greeting. Ignore your furbaby for the first few minutes after you get home.
- Leave some recently worn clothes out that has the scent or smell like you.
- Consider giving your pet over-the-counter natural calming supplements.
For serious cases, you’ll slowly need to get your dog used to your absence. Here are some departure techniques that you could do to train your dog:
- Your dog may start to get anxious when he sees signs that you’re about to leave. So do those - putting on your shoes or picking up keys - but don’t leave. Sit on a table or watch a TV instead. Expose your dog to these cues in various orders several times a day.
- When your dog starts to feel less anxious about these cues, you can now train him to perform out-of-sight stays by using an inside door in your home. You can teach your pup to sit and stay while you go to the other side of the door. Slowly increase the amount of time you wait on the other side of the door, out of your dog’s sight. You can also work on getting your dog used to the aforementioned cues as you practice the stay. For example, pick up your keys and ask your pup to stay while you go into another room.
- As your dog gets used to the “stay game”, increase the length of time that you’re gone. Then transition into using an outside door in your home, but not the same one you go out to every day. Make sure your pup is relaxed before you leave.
- Gradually build up the time until you can leave the house for a few minutes, then stay away for longer periods.
Only you can tell if your pup is ready to be left alone for longer periods. Don’t rush things and always act calm when you leave and when you return.
It’s also key to work your furbaby’s mind and body. Make sure to give your dog lots of exercise everyday. Challenge your pet’s mind by playing training games or using interactive puzzles. A tired, happy dog will be less stressed when you leave.