Identifying & Preventing Separation Anxiety in Your Dog
Some dogs get upset when their pet parents leave. After all, they generally don't like to be left alone or be apart from their best friend. How can you tell whether your pup is merely bummed you're running an errand or is suffering from something more serious? Use the following to spot separation anxiety in dogs, and help restore his calm when he's feeling most lonely.
Is It True Separation Anxiety?
Dogs with separation anxiety go beyond simply pouting or whining when you leave them. Separation anxiety manifests in destructive or self-harming behavior that can include soiling in the house, tearing up their surroundings, and even occasionally injuring themselves while attempting to get out. Other symptoms include vocalizing excessively, refusing to eat or drink, and incessant panting or salivating. Many pups with separation anxiety don't respond well to being crated either.
It's important to keep in mind, though, that many of these symptoms can also reflect other conditions, which makes separation anxiety hard to properly diagnose. If your dog relieves himself in the house while you're gone, for example, there are still a number of possible causes–including improper house training or incontinence due to a physical condition. Excessive panting, salivating, and refusing to eat or drink could also signal another medical condition such as dehydration. Some dogs also simply have rambunctious personalities that turn items in their surroundings into collateral damage.
The key is to determine whether these behaviors only occur when your dog is left alone, and to rule out familiar causes such as a medical condition or the dog's age and personality. In the case of separation anxiety, destructiveness is usually specific to the desire to escape. Chewing your favorite pair of shoes while you're gone, on the other hand, is often him just being a dog. But if he chews and scratches the wallpaper, he may very well be desperate to get out–a telltale sign of separation anxiety in dogs. Another sign is if these are new behaviors that your dog hasn't normally exhibited, especially if you are away more often than in the past.
Preventing This Stress
Although it remains a mystery as to what causes certain dogs to feel this way over others, some triggers have been identified. According to The Humane Society of the United States, these include:
- Being left alone for the first time after getting used to constant companionship.
- Feeling the trauma of time spent at a new/strange shelter or kennel.
- Sudden change in household routine or structure, such as the passing of a family member or pet.
As far as it's in your power to do so, helping your dog cope if he's faced with any of these scenarios will prevent him from developing separation anxiety in the first place. Planning to board him at a kennel for a few days while you're out of town? Ease into it ahead of time by taking him there to visit, and leave a favorite toy or an old tee-shirt covered in your scent to comfort him during his stay. And if any major changes occur at home, be sure to lavish attention on your buddy to help reassure him he's still safe and secure.
If your dog is already suffering from separation anxiety, the key to treating the disorder is to help him overcome his "fear." PetMD recommends first assessing your dog's behavior and environment–as well as any behavioral cues you may be unwittingly transmitting–to determine what you can change to make your pet feel more comfortable with your (temporary) absence. An experienced dog trainer or animal behaviorist may be able to help you determine what's contributing, too. In the meantime, however, his veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help calm him while you work on nudging his reactions in a better direction.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also points out that it's important to provide your pet with plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Vigorous exercise, daily walks, and interactive play can all go a long way toward keeping his confidence once you leave. Providing mentally stimulating toys, such as food or puzzle toys, give him something to keep his mind occupied other than your absence.
And of course, showering your dog with love and attention when you're with him will remind him he can depend on you no matter where you are. If you suspect he has separation anxiety, talking to your vet about the signs is a good starting point. With a proper diagnosis, an action plan can teach him to overcome it. And with consistency by you in carrying out that plan, your pal stands an excellent chance of having calmer, happier alone time.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is fiction author and freelance writer and editor living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She writes frequently about pets and pet health in her home office, where she is assisted by a lapful of furbabies.