Separation Anxiety In Dogs
You just came home from work and instead of a joyful reunion with your dog, your eyes behold the horrible sight of shredded couch cushions and pieces of foam layered all over the living room. The culprit is your six month old puppy who is staring at you with those big brown soulful eyes and his head on his paws like he knows he was a bad dog.
It could be that your dog isn’t really bad; he could be suffering from a form of doggie separation anxiety syndrome. Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety go from a fun companion to a whole different kind of animal when owners leave the house – sometimes even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Separation anxiety is a serious issue and one of the top reasons dogs are turned over to the humane society.
Separation Anxiety Signs
Dogs with separation anxiety can do things like dig or scratch at the door to try to get to the owners, chew up things (like your couch cushions), howl, bark or whine, and even go to the bathroom all over your house.
But, how can you tell if this is separation anxiety or the dog really is just an untrained dog? If it’s signs of separation anxiety, then the problem usually happens right after you shut the door. Plus, even while you are home, your dog may seem extra clingy and follow you from room to room, going crazy if you, for instance, shut the bathroom door and he can’t see you. Or he may start to get frantic when he knows you are getting ready to leave the house.
Why Do Dogs Do This?
Dogs are pack animals and therefore it isn’t really natural for them to be totally alone. Some dogs can’t handle the stress of being separated from their new human pack members.
Maybe he is a former shelter dog and he fears he is being left behind again, or maybe there has been a big change in his life such as you moved to a new town or had a new baby. He may even just be bored and have no outlet for stimulation when you aren’t there.
Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs
If you have an overly sensitive pup that is showing these signs of separation anxiety, then you need to figure out ways to give him the confidence to realize that you aren’t leaving him forever, and that it isn’t so bad to have some alone time. Remember, your dog relies on you for his every need and in that sense, from his point of view it’s a scary thing when his guardian leaves the house.
Sometimes all you need to do are a few simple things to ease a dog who gets upset when you are gone. You can try something like leaving an old shirt you have recently worn that has your scent on it. You can also leave toys for your dog in case he is just bored, like a plastic ball that fills with treats and to get the treats, the dog has to push it around and shake them out. This could keep his attention for hours if you are lucky.
Try taking your dog for a walk or having a play session before you have to leave the house. This should get him all tired out and he may, in turn, be more relaxed and even sleep while you are gone.
One way to cure separation anxiety is through a program of desensitizing him to the things that spark the problem, like you putting on your coat or taking out your car keys.
First, you can start doing these things and then not leaving the house. You may have to do this multiple times over the course of a few weeks, but the times that you do it, you should praise your dog profusely.
Once these actions don’t cause him to panic, then leave for short periods of time, maybe even just a few seconds at first, and come right back. Again, when he doesn’t go crazy, reward him. With a little luck and lots of practice, in time, you should be able to actually leave and he will not think it is such as big deal.
Don’t Do This!
Punishing your dog won’t help, and can sometimes make it worse. Your dog isn’t doing all of this to spite you, it’s just a frightened reaction to a situation that he can’t control – your absence.
And don’t think all you have to do is get him a friend; this may just get you two hyper dogs causing problems instead of just one. He misses you, not another dog.
Medication for Anxious Dogs
In severe cases, veterinarians have been known to give dogs anxiety medications, but before you resort to that, you should make very sure you have no other options. Unless there is an actual medical reason, all this does is sedate your dog and you are only masking the issue, not stopping it.
Bottom Line with Separation Anxiety and Dogs
All in all, one of the main causes guardians get rid of their dogs is when dogs have separation anxiety and exhibit behavior problems while they are at work or even just gone for a few minutes. As guardians, we have a responsibility to our pets, as they are living beings and not toys to play with when we desire, and then just left alone when we don’t.
Take the time to train your dog and give him the proper stimulation, things to give him something to do while you are out, and the attention he needs when you are home.