While you were out, Fido scratched your door, chewed your shoes, and urinated on your living room carpet. Your neighbors tell you that they hear your dog howling whenever you aren’t home.
Separation anxiety: causes, symptoms, and treatment
Some dogs are predisposed to have overly dependent personalities. Others develop this trait from being separated too early from their mothers, or from not having the opportunity to form close bonds with humans early in life. A trauma or a sudden change in the family situation (where you live or who lives in the household) can also cause separation anxiety for dogs.
Most symptoms of separation anxiety are exhibited when dogs are alone. All, some, or just one of these symptoms may be present when you aren’t home:
- Chewing on or tearing at furniture and household items
- Scratching doors and windows
- Urinating or defecating on furniture or flooring
- Chewing on or excessively licking themselves
- Depression – refusing to eat or drink
- Excessive whining, howling, and barking
Destructive behavior typically takes place within the first 30 to 45 minutes after the dog is left alone, while vocalizations may continue until you return.
Some of the above may also be symptoms of health problems. If your dog exhibits these symptoms only when he’s without human companionship, separation anxiety is probably the cause. Take your dog to your veterinarian if they also occur when you’re at home.
Dogs with separation anxiety may also need constant contact and attention when their owners are home. They follow their owners around the house and show increasing anxiety when they see signs that their owners are preparing to leave. When the owners come home, the dogs’ overly enthusiastic greetings are prolonged.
Keep in mind that dogs are pack animals and react out of instinct. Punishment is not the solution. Neither is getting another dog for company — dogs with separation anxiety are responding to the loss of their human companions.
These approaches are used in treating separation anxiety disorder in dogs:
- Behavior modification
- Anxiety-reducing aids
Anxiety-reducing aids and medication work best for separation anxiety when used with behavior modification techniques.
First, avoid making your departures and arrivals major events. Doing so elevates the significance of your comings and goings and adds to your dog’s stress level when he’s alone. When you leave, just go out of your home quietly. When you come home, ignore your dog for the first few minutes. You want your arrival to be a low-key event.
Second, observe what triggers your dog’s anxiety. Your picking up your briefcase or purse? The jingling of your keys? Do these actions repeatedly without leaving to desensitize your dog to them. Then, repeat these actions followed by leaving your home and returning right away until your dog accepts them without distress.
Third, get your dog accustomed to short and gradually longer separations from his people. Leave for just a few minutes at first without making a fuss over him before you leave or after you return. Gradually make these separations longer.
In addition to the above steps, give your dog plenty of regular exercise. He’ll have less energy to burn off when he’s alone, bored, and stressed.
To distract your dog before you leave, you might want to give him a toy. Dog toys that keep dogs occupied for a long time, such as those filled with treats, are good ones to leave with your dog when he’s alone.
For some dogs, being in a dog crate makes them feel less anxious when they’re home alone. Other dogs, however, become more anxious when confined, and they spend their crated time trying to escape from their crates. For these dogs, crating is obviously not a solution.
The simplest aid to reducing anxiety is to leave the TV or radio on when you aren’t home. Sometimes the company of human voices is enough to reduce dogs’ anxiety levels. The white noise also prevents dogs from hearing and reacting to every little sound in their environment.
Two Odor Destroyer products created for dogs help reduce stress and stress-related behavior:
- Comfort Zone with DAP (Dog-Appeasing Pheremone) mimics a natural, reassuring pheromone produced by female dogs when nursing. The presence of this plugin scent (odorless to humans) reduces or eliminates symptoms of separation anxiety and other stress-related behavior.
- K9 Kalmer plays soothing music that dogs can hear but people can’t hear. This specially engineered music distracts dogs from the cause of their anxiety and results in a dog’s version of tranquility. When this product is used systematically, excessive barking and destructive behavior are reduced or eliminated.
If your dog continues to have symptoms of separation anxiety, ask your veterinarian about anxiety-reducing medication and antidepressants suitable for dogs. These drugs have possible side effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea, and they may take several weeks to work.
Anxiety and antidepressant medication doesn’t address the cause of the problem. For dogs with a severe anxiety disorder, it may be what they need in addition to the above steps.