While it may seem that separation anxiety is more common than it used to be, that is only due to the fact that in the past it was frequently misdiagnosed, or just confused as bad behavior without understanding the root of the problem. Is your dog seemingly worried when you head out, destroying stuff when you leave the house (overturned furniture, urination and defecation on your floors, deep claw scratches on door frames), following you from room to room when you are home and goes crazy when you come back, regardless if you are gone for a short or long period of time? If so, your dog may be dealing with separation anxiety. When dogs with separation anxiety are left alone, they display distress and behavioral problems.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
- Destructive chewing
- Digging and scratching at windows or doors
- Barking, howling and whining
- Urination and defecation (even if house-trained)
- Intense, persistent pacing
Causes of Separation Anxiety
There is no irrefutable evidence as to why dogs develop separation anxiety, but here are some scenarios that have been associated with separation anxiety:
- Change of family or guardian
- Change in schedule
- Being left alone for the first time
- Being left alone when used to constant human contact
- Suffering a traumatic event
- Change in residence
- Loss of a family member or other pet
Treatment For Separation Anxiety
- Don’t make a big deal out of leaving and coming home
- When you leave, be quiet about it and pay no attention to your dog as you’re going through your leaving routine (putting coat on, grabbing keys etc.)
- Ignore your dog for the first few minutes when you get home, then calmly pet them.
- Ease the pieces of your departure routine by also doing them when you are not leaving. Dress in your work clothes then cook dinner, pick up your car keys and sit down on the couch to watch TV, set your alarm on a Saturday for the time you get up for work, then roll over and go back to sleep.
- Change up your departure routine so that your dog doesn’t easily recognize your departure cues. It may be hard to break your own habits, but by making the morning as unpredictable as possible, it can prevent your dog’s anxiety from building to it’s boiling point.
- Establish a word or action to use every time you leave that lets your dog know you’ll be back.
- Leave your dog with clothes you’ve recently worn that smell like you.
- Consider using an over-the-counter calming product.
If the separation anxiety is severe, you may need to meet with a behavior specialist or consider a medical treatment regimen.
What Won’t Help
- Scolding or Punishment – Your dog is already trying to cope with a great deal of stress. If you punish them, they may become even more upset and the problem could get worse.
- Obedience Training – It is always a good idea for your dog to receive formal training, however separation anxiety isn’t the result of a lack of training or disobedience.
- Getting Another Dog – While having another pup companion is nice, it usually doesn’t help an anxious dog because their anxiety isn’t necessarily the result of being alone, but the result of separation from you.
While it may be easy to get frustrated with your dog’s destructive behavior, it’s important to keep in mind that they are not being spiteful or doing it out of ill will. It’s not fun for them either, and while you are gone they are feeling alone and terrified. If you can commit to taking the necessary steps to help treat the anxiety, you will not only save your home from destruction, but also enhance the quality of your dog’s life.