One of the most common complaints of pet parents is that their dogs are disruptive or destructive when left alone. Their dogs might urinate, defecate, bark, howl, chew, dig or try to escape. Although this may show a behavioral problem or bad dog manners, however it is most probably associated with separation anxiety.
Separation Anxiety in dogs is anxiety that is provoked in the dog by separation or the threat of separation from its parents. Dogs with separation anxiety can show symptoms before their owners leave the house, for example when you are applying make-up, putting on your shoes or when you pick your keys. Or it can be after you leave the house; your dog will start barking, pacing and may start chewing on your things.
The below are some of the symptoms that dogs show if they have separation anxiety:
- Barking and howling
- Chewing and digging
- Escaping in rare extreme cases
The reasons why dogs develop separation anxiety is still ambiguous but the below can be one of the reasons:
- Change of Guardian or Family. When you adopt a dog from a shelter or take one from a friend.
- Change in Schedule. For example if there was always someone at home most of the time and suddenly you all go out at the same time ( change from stay home work to regular office work, or after summer holidays and back to school, etc.)
- Change in Residence. Moving to a new residence can trigger the development of separation anxiety.
- Change in Household Membership. The sudden absence of a resident family member, either due to death or moving away.
What to do if your dog has separation anxiety?
In mild cases of separation anxiety counter-conditioning might reduce the problem. Counter-conditioning is a treatment process that changes an animal’s fear or aggression into a more pleasant or relaxed one.
It is done by associating the feared situation with something that the dog may like or love. For example, every time you leave the house leave your dog good food, a new toy, or a treat that he likes.
Moderate or severe cases of separation anxiety require a more complex resolution and you may need a professional trainer to help the dog deal with the separation anxiety that they have.
Below are 5 steps that may help in these cases:
- Pre-departure cues
If your dog suffers from the separation anxiety they usually show the signs starting by when you go to change your clothes, put on your shoes, things like that. What you can do is do some of these actions, but associate them with normal routine. For example change your clothes and put on your shoes then continue watching tv normally. Or pick your keys and then start doing some home chores. This way, when you actually do those actions before going out, your dog won’t be as anxious as before.
- Start out small
If your dog is not used to being left alone, you need to start small. Start leaving the dog alone for maybe 30 minutes, then you can increase that by time gradually, until the dog is used to being alone home.
- Take your dog for a walk and exercise before you leave
This way when the dog is back he/she will be relaxed and even tired they won’t be so anxious when you go out.
- Don’t get emotional or dramatic before you leave
Limit touching, talking and eye contact before leaving and make simple goodbyes. Don’t make such a big deal when you leave or come back, this will only agitate the dog more. Make it as if it is normal routine to go out alone. A calm and assertive leader can ease the anxiety in dogs. A simple pat on the head is enough until the dog’s excitement is over then you can spread your love as you wish.
- Special activity when the dog is alone
Try to use a special game or treatment when the dog is alone, it may be a certain game like hiding things or a Kong that will take time to be consumed.
Note: Don’t punish your dog for the things done while you are away if they have separation anxiety. This may worsen the situation, and keep in mind that at those times the dog is dealing with a lot of stress.
By Farah Khaled
Sources: Ceasar’s Way , Pets WebMD
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