A dog with separation anxiety is a very worrying situation. Whether it's a puddle on the floor or destroyed furniture, you never know what you're going to find when you get home. These destructive habits can lead to self-inflicted injuries including cut paws and a bleeding palate. Or something worse that needs surgery.
What can you do when your buddy experiences constant stress each time you leave?
Here we outlined the possible causes, symptoms, and treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. Find how to address the stress that your dog experiences when you leave the house so they can live their best lives.
What is Dog Separation Anxiety?
When your dog shows discomfort and stress from the time you leave them alone until you return, they may have separation anxiety. They will behave as though they are scared to be at home alone, and the symptoms can vary.
Although you can't know for sure what's going through your dog's mind, Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, says that separation anxiety can be compared to a panic attack.
Separation anxiety is a serious condition that manifests in more severe ways than just the odd gloomy whimper as you leave the house or the torn sock you find when you get home. Proper training at an early stage may help your dog to avoid it, but there are cases where the root of the anxiety and stress is much more complex.
Separation anxiety is not the same as boredom, and unlike a little mischief when your dog is left alone, it is caused by real stress.
Possible Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
There are a few possible causes for dogs to suffer separation anxiety, even if there isn't any concrete proof to support this. For instance, dogs raised by the same household since they were puppies are less likely to develop behavioural problems than dogs adopted from animal shelters.
These are a few reasons that are commonly associated with dog separation anxiety.
Sometimes, your dog’s breed is just more prone to anxiety than other breeds. In fact, when exposed to triggers like frequent or loud noise, some dog breeds like the Lagotto Romagnolo, Wheaten Terrier, and mixed breed dogs are known to get extremely anxious. Spanish water dogs, Shetland dogs, and again, mixed breeds, were the most fearful breeds.
Your dog’s breed now helps you determine if you’re doing something wrong that causes them separation anxiety, or if they’re just wired that way.
Change of owner or family
If your dog was rescued or adopted from a previous owner, they may be more likely to have separation anxiety. Separation anxiety might start to develop if they are abandoned, handed over to a shelter, or given to a new family or guardian.
Change in residence
Separation anxiety might also occur as a result of moving to a new home. The change in physical location and the environment from the ones they’re previously used to living may cause them anxiety as they’re not yet familiar with the new place.
Change in routine
A sudden change in how long your dog spends their time alone might lead to separation anxiety. If you work from home and spend the entire day with your dog, but then find a new job that requires you to leave them alone for six or more hours at a time, your dog can experience separation anxiety as a result of that change.
Absence or loss of a family member or other pet
A dog may become anxious if their owner disappears unexpectedly for a long time. Whether they moved away, filed a divorce, or a death in the family, this can cause anxiety to a family dog.
A traumatic incident, such as a robbery, that happened while you were away may cause your dog to experience separation anxiety. That can be because they will think something bad will happen again while you’re away, and they’re left alone to witness or handle the situation, which is indeed stressful.
Pets can experience social anxiety, just like people do. The key to preventing dog anxiety in this case is proper socialising.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
The first step to managing your dog's separation anxiety is being able to recognize the warning signs and symptoms. It's crucial to know what to look for because there are many various ways that dog separation anxiety can manifest.
These are some other key tell tale signs that suggest your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety:
- Drooling and panting - if your dog’s drooling and panting more than usual, that’s a sign. When left alone, a dog who suffers from separation anxiety may drool excessively and pant incessantly.
- Pacing - Some dogs who have separation anxiety pace around the house in the same manner, going back and forth in straight lines or in circles.
- Trying to escape - An anxious dog will make an effort to leave the place where they are left alone. They might try to chew, dig, or gnaw their way through windows or doors, which might result in self-harm.
- Excessive howling or barking - An anxious dog will howl, bark, and whimper in an effort to get away.
- Soiling inside the house even when potty-trained - Even though they have been trained to use the bathroom outside, a dog with separation anxiety will soil within the house when left alone.
- Showing destructive behaviours - Some dogs with separation anxiety will show destructive behaviours such as chewing, digging, and scratching. They can gnaw or scrape on window sills, entrances, door frames, and other household items.
Solutions for Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Rule out medical problems
It’s important to rule out medical problems first. If your dog has an accident inside your house, this may not be necessarily linked to separation anxiety. Incontinence, a medical condition where a dog "leaks" or voids his bladder, can also be another reason.
Urinary incontinence in dogs can be brought on by a variety of medical conditions. Urinary tract infections, weak sphincters brought on by ageing, hormonal issues following spaying, bladder stones, diabetes, kidney illness, Cushing's disease, neurological issues, and genitalia anomalies are a few of them.
To rule out any underlying medical conditions, visit your dog's veterinarian before attempting behavioural therapy for separation anxiety.
Stay calm whenever you leave and arrive
It's also important to avoid making a big deal out of leaving your dog. Keep things under control and keep it to a gentle pat on the head as you leave. Even though you might be tempted to make a big deal out of it and give your dog a goodbye hug and kiss, this would probably only make them more anxious.
If you pay them too much attention, they might believe that if they act up, you'll have to stay in the house with them.
The same rule applies when you go home: don't interact with them too much. Instead, limit your greeting to a short "hi" and avoid paying them any further attention until they have calmed down.
Desensitise them to being alone
Desensitization aims to gradually reduce your dog's sensitivity to being left alone. Start by leaving them alone for brief periods that won't cause anxiety, then proceed to longer time periods.
This should be done gradually, ideally over the course of a few weeks. It's important to exercise caution if you want to take this course of treatment because there's a potential that it can make your dog's separation anxiety worse.
Keep a close eye on your dog's reactions so you can determine whether it is helping or making the situation worse.
Counterconditioning is attempting to switch your dog's anxiety to excitement of being left alone. You can achieve this by teaching them that being left alone means rewards or a delicious meal.
For example, give your dog their favourite treat each time you leave the house. Because they know they will get something good in return, this will teach them to be excited rather than afraid when you leave.
Just be careful to remove the food when you get home. While some dogs with extreme anxiety won't eat when their owners aren't around, counterconditioning is helpful for dogs with mild separation anxiety only.
Ask your vet for medications
Medication is often the best option to manage your dog's separation anxiety. Even with the help of these training strategies, anxiety often doesn't go away easily because it is a behavioural disorder.
Usually, your anxious dog will need to take prescribed medication from a vet to calm their nervous mind before they can start learning new instructions and information.
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you worry constantly about them and their well-being, which can interfere with your everyday activities. Choosing the best treatment and training your dog properly means securing a better quality of life for you both.