Separation anxiety refers to distressful behavior in dogs due to separation from their owners, dogs are social animals therefore are not well conditioned to live solitary lives or being left alone for long periods of time.
There is no clear explanation as to why certain dogs exhibit this behavior but majority usually have the following in common:
- Have a history of being given away to a new family or to a shelter
- Change in the length of time the pet is left alone due to a change in schedule. A new job may force one to stay longer hours away from their pet which can trigger anxiety.
- Change in homes or residence
Common signs of separation anxiety behavior include:
- Barking and howling
- Urinating and defecating
- Chewing, scratching and destruction of items around the home.
- Escape attempts and at times some manage to escape
- Pacing in circles or walk back and forth in straight lines
This signs are only observed when the dog is left alone or before the owner leaves and not in his presence. It should be distinguished from
- Incomplete toilet training
- Urinary incontinence
- Urine marking
- Juvenile destruction
- Submissive or excitement urination
- Side effects of certain medication
Treatment of separation anxiety is usually geared towards conditioning the brain to associate the owner leaving to something good and fun. This can include and not limited to:
- Crate training
This involves leaving the dog in his crate a few times in a day so that he gets used to staying alone throughout the day.
- Independence training
This involves training the dog to be on his own especially those that have a habit of following their owners wherever they go. One can do this by making the dog stay or sit in one room while the owner is in another. During the first few instances the dog may not sit for long but encourage him to sit longer using treats. At the same time slowly start to increase your distance away from until you manage to be in different rooms without him getting fussy. If the dog gets upset do not pet him as this will reinforce the behavior.
- Have quiet departure and arrivals
Do not be dramatic when leaving for work or when getting home by having long goodbyes and greetings. Try to make them very short and quiet. Dramatic entrances and exits feed into your dogs anxiety. If your fur baby starts exhibiting signs of distress please ignore and don not pet or reassure her.
One can also have a list of a few things or rituals he or she can do before they leave the house that can indicate to the dog that you are planning to leave. This has to be done on several occasions repeatedly until the dog stops distressed behavior and is conditioned.
- Time alone
This involves leaving the dog in a room alone or in his crate, shut the door and go to another room and progressively increase time apart. While at it one can opt to leave him with a toy to play with or chewy treats to occupy him while alone. This will help relive anxiety and condition his brain to associate the chewy treats and alone time as something desirable.
In cases of severe separation anxiety medication can be prescribed to calm him down as well seeking assistance from a veterinary behavioral specialist.
Counter conditioning and desensitization of this behavior may take time therefore patience is required but this is something that certainly needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.