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Home > Pet News and Articles > Does Your Dog Suffer From Separation Anxiety?

Does Your Dog Suffer From Separation Anxiety?
Article By: Glenn Redmond

Separation Anxiety is the loss of a dog's ability to function normally when left alone. Typically the dog becomes very stressed; often barking uncontrollably, chewing and scratching at windows and doors, chewing household items, and defecating or urinating. Some dogs will even get anxious if their owners move to another room with the door shut. In severe cases some dogs will not eat or drink while the owners are away or engage in self-mutilation such as chewing parts of their body or licking so excessively that they develop sores.

Often separation anxiety is confused with owner absent behavior, where dogs through boredom will ran-sack the garbage or chew a favorite couch. The result is often the same, but these dogs feel no anxiety in their destruction and these behaviors do not happen every time the owner leaves.

So why does separation anxiety develop?

There are many possibilities to why a dog will become anxious when alone. Some dogs have been left alone for too long of a period when they were puppies. Others have been abused or neglected often ending up in animal shelters and with rescue groups. When moved to a new caring home, they now suffer fears of being abandoned again. Some have endured a frightening experience which leads to an over-dependence on the owners. However, the biggest contributing factor to separation anxiety is often doting owners and poorly established routines. New dog owners will often want to spend all their time with the new addition at the beginning, and have a tendency to give too much freedom and over-indulgent attention to a very impressionable mind. It is vital from Day 1 to establish your routines and expectations for the life of your dog, not just the first month or two, only to change them later. Showering a new addition with affection and treating them as a furry human is the wrong approach. They must be taught the rules of obedience and training a dog to be calm when alone is a huge part of that.

Tips to Avoid Separation Anxiety

    1. Keep the comings and goings of your house calm. Enthusiastic 'hellos' and 'good-byes' will only lead to increased anxiety.
    2. Exercise- dogs need to relieve that pent up energy. A long walk or a game of fetch before you leave for extended periods will keep your dog happier and calmer.
    3. Obedience- teaching your dog some basic commands and using them throughout the day will establish your leadership in the household leading to a much more confident and well rounded companion.
    4. Do not reward barking, whining, or undesired behavior with interaction and affection. This only teaches your dog the wrong way to get attention.
    5. Do not allow your dog to be pampered and their every desire realized. Dogs that spend a good part of their day being petted, lying on your lap and having every demand met are at an increased risk of developing separation anxiety when left alone.
    6. Start with baby steps - pattern your dog to be alone by leaving for short periods and returning without making a fuss. This will teach your dog that you will return every time you leave. If your dog is a puppy, or not trustworthy in the house, you will find patterning the dog to a crate will be an invaluable tool.
    7. Be consistent- dogs that have all your attention Saturday and Sunday, only for you to rush off to work Monday morning, are at an increased risk of developing anxiety. It is important to develop a routine 7 days a week, which means leaving your dog alone for periods even on your days off.

Treatment

Treating separation anxiety is much different than dealing with other behavior problems. Remember, the destruction that occurs is the product of the anxiety, not because the dog is trying to be bad. Patience and consistency to relieve the fear and anxiety is key to solving the problem. Punishing the dog in any way upon your return will only make matters worse, increasing the dog's anxiety with every departure. In severe cases of separation anxiety, medications can be prescribed. However, this is not an end all, be all solution and should be used in combination with a behavioral program. If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, a qualified animal behaviorist should be consulted to develop a program for you and your dog's specific needs.

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