Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Naturally, a dog’s favourite spot is close by his human’s side. But most dogs are comfortable spending some time alone whilst their best friend works, runs errands, or takes a trip. For some dogs, however, the minor discomfort of being apart from their guardian develops into separation anxiety. The destructive and disruptive behaviours linked to separation anxiety can be deeply distressing for dogs and their owners. Read on to learn the symptoms of separation anxiety in your dog and how to help your best friend and yourself find some peace when you are apart.
WHAT CAUSES SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS?
In most instances, separation anxiety is triggered by abrupt changes in a dog’s life, such as:
Any dog can develop separation anxiety, but it is more common in dogs who have been abandoned and adopted from animal shelters. It is also more likely among dogs who were weaned prematurely, which is a frequent practice in puppy mills.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS?
The behavioural signs that your dog may be experiencing distress when left alone are:
Quick Tip: The symptoms of separation anxiety can also indicate other physical, behavioural and environmental issues. Discuss your dog’s habits and symptoms with your vet to rule out boredom, youthful destructive chewing or digging, submissive urination, or a response to medications. Generally, if the behaviours are the result of separation anxiety, they will occur exclusively when your dog is alone.
HELPING YOUR DOG OVERCOME MILD SEPARATION ANXIETY
Counterconditioning can often resolve mild cases of separation anxiety. This approach involves creating positive, relaxing associations with being left alone, often using a combination of treats and toys to distract your dog from his habitual stress response to your departure. Puzzle toys are an effective counterconditioning tool because they require focused attention and deliver a tasty reward over an extended period of time. Follow these simple steps:
HELPING YOUR DOG OVERCOME SEVERE SEPARATION ANXIETY
More difficult cases of separation anxiety call for a combination of counterconditioning and desensitisation over time. Patience is key as your dog slowly learns to remain calm before and after your departure. Pull from the methods and tips listed below, skipping anything your dog has mastered, moving on when your dog seems fully comfortable and repeating steps as needed. Keep training sessions brief. Think of this process in terms of weeks, rather than days, so you don’t become impatient with your dog’s progress or move too fast.
Many people find they need additional help with this time-consuming process. If you need support, hire a professional dog trainer with expertise in canine separation anxiety.
PUNISHMENT WORSENS ANXIETY IN DOGS
It is understandable to feel frustrated when your dog has expressed his separation anxiety with destructive behaviours in the house. But angry scolding will not help. Your dog is distressed already and punishment can actually worsen symptoms rather than alleviate them. Kindness, patience and counterconditioning will relieve your dog’s symptoms the fastest.
USING MEDICATION TO TREAT SEPARATION ANXIETY IN DOGS
If your dog’s separation anxiety is causing extreme hardship on himself and the household, your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-anxiety drug. The medication can help your dog calm down enough to get through the counterconditioning and desensitisation process. Once your dog is comfortable being alone, however, he should be slowly weaned off the medication.
Important note: Anti-anxiety medications should only be given to your dog with a prescription from a veterinarian who is familiar with your dog’s behaviour issue.
Having a dog with separation anxiety is often overwhelming for dog owners and the behaviour problem can feel insurmountable at times. It is not. With time, patience and professional help, if needed, even dogs with extreme symptoms of separation anxiety can show marked improvements. Take heart that soon your dog will be at ease on his own and you’ll enjoy a newfound peace of mind that helps you enjoy your best friend all the more.
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