Separation anxiety is a condition suffered by some dogs that simply cannot be left alone without doing damage to their surroundings, to themselves, or both. In most cases, the bond between the dog and owner has “over-developed” to the point where the dog panics when left alone.
Separation anxiety can be serious, and can affect any dog in any situation. While some people think it’s “cute” that their dog “loves” them so much they can’t stand to be apart, separation anxiety can be very hard on a dog and the family with whom she lives.
The good news is that in many situations separation anxiety can be significantly lessened by utilizing behavior modification techniques. And, while it does take time and commitment on the pet owners part, many dogs suffering from this can overcome their fears and become terrific family pets.
Identifying Separation Anxiety
One of the major pitfalls when working with separation anxiety is the initial diagnosis.Many of the symptoms mirror other behavioral problems. As a result the wrong techniques may be used in an attempt to cure the “problem” – which can increase the anxiety and make the problem worse.
The first step is to identify the symptoms of separation anxiety. They may appear in different degrees of severity and all may not occur in every pet.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Some symptoms include:
- Urination or defecation only when you are away from home
- Destruction inside the house, typically focused on exit routes such as doorways and windows
- Howling that begins shortly after you leave (more of a howl that a bark.)
- Self-mutilation; chewing on legs, flanks, etc. only when you are gone
- Signs of stress; salivating, trembling, etc. every time you prepare to leave the house
- Signs of stress when crated; including self- mutilation, excessive salivation, destruction of the crate and urination or defecation in the crate
These are some of the more common symptoms of separation anxiety and can appear in any degree and in any combination. It is also true that most of these symptoms can be signs of other behavior issues and may not necessarily indicate separation anxiety.
What to do
If you suspect your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, it is necessary that you contact a behaviorist to help you devise a treatment plan. In the meantime, the following tips may help to ease your dog’s stress:
- Keep your departures and arrivals low key; ignore your dog and quietly leave, come home and let your dog out without speaking to her or petting her initially.
- Try diverting your dog’s attention with a Kong or a sterilized, hollow beef bone stuffed with treats just before you leave.
What to Avoid
The following should be avoided:
- Confining your dog to an indoor kennel or crate and leaving her alone could result in self- mutilation
- Feeding your dog right before you leave could result in gastric upset, causing urination, defecation, or vomiting
- Punishing your dog for being destructive should be avoided at all costs; this can greatly increase your dogs stress level and therefore increase his anxiety about you leaving and returning
- Bringing another dog into the home when your dog is stressed about being separated from you, would likely teach the new dog to become stressed as well
Information provided by Michigan Humane Society Rochester Hills, Michigan
Behavior Help Line (248)650-0127