Lots of dogs may become sad when their owners leave them alone. Some dogs can be bored, too, and even become destructive in the home. But these reactions are different from a dog that has separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a real anxiety condition with a specific set of behaviors. Mild separation anxiety can sometimes be overcome by using desensitization techniques at home, but more severe cases usually require help from a professional trainer or canine behavior consultant, and/or medication from your veterinarian.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is an anxiety condition that usually occurs in dogs that have not been well-socialized as puppies. They may have come through animal shelters, been passed from person to person, been abused at some point, or they may simply have never been taken out to meet people and other dogs when they were young. For whatever reason, a dog generally lacks self-confidence and relies on the owner for their confidence. When the owner leaves the house, the dog becomes anxious and worried, either for himself or about what will happen to the owner.
- Barking, whining or crying
- Defecating and urinating in the house
- Destroying furniture and other objects
- Destroying clothing or other things that belong to the owner
- Ignoring other people in the home, even if they try to comfort him
- Ignoring toys, things to chew on, and other things meant to keep the dog happy
- If crated, the dog may try to chew his way out of the crate
As you can see, separation anxiety is much more than just boredom or temporary sadness because the owner has left the house. When a dog experiences separation anxiety, the feelings usually continue for the entire time the owner is gone. The dog is fixated on the owner. Things that often help a dog feel better, such as toys and things to chew on, or comfort from someone else in the house, no longer work to distract the dog.
How To Overcome Separation Anxiety
There are several things you can do to help your dog overcome him separation anxiety such as :
- Try spending more time with your dog. If he is craving time with you, give it to him.
- Make sure he is getting lots of exercise. If you can wear him out with exercise he may be more prone to sleeping during the day when you are at work. Exercise is also good for relaxing dogs.
- Don’t give up on the toys and safe things to chew on. Continue to provide them. Kongs are a great, safe toy to provide your dog with while you are not home. They come in many different sizes such as large, medium, or small, which is great depending on the type of dog you have. You can fill these will water and chicken broth, then place them in the freezer or you can just add some peanut butter depending on the amount of time you have. There are also kongs for dogs who are prone to being excessive chewers.
- Try desensitization. This means that you can try to help your dog get used to seeing you do things that lead up to leaving the house such as picking up your keys without leaving. Then picking up other things, without leaving. Then going to the door, without leaving, and so on. Eventually you will go out the door, and quickly come back inside. Ultimately you will get in your car and come right back. If you continue to do these things until your dog gets used to them, you will lower his anxiety because he will learn that you always return.
- If desensitization doesn’t work you should talk to your vet about medication and behavior modification. See if he or she can recommend a trainer or canine behavior consultant to work with your dog. These experts often work with a vet to prescribe medication that will calm your dog while he learns new behavior to deal with you leaving.
Separation anxiety is a serious condition but it can be overcome with patience. The best way to prevent separation anxiety is to make sure your puppy gets lots of socialization when he’s young. The more self-confidence your puppy develops, the better he will cope when you have to leave him alone.