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Separation Anxiety: When Your Dog Can’t Be Alone

by Dan Borja on March 05, 2020

Separation anxiety occurs when a dog becomes destructive when left alone. If your dog acts this way, it may be due to fear of being abandoned or lack of training as a pup. Watch your pet's behavior as you prepare to leave the house. If your dog drools and follows you around, he may have separation anxiety. 


You may return home to a chewed up pillow or toys scattered all over the floor. If your dog has severe separation anxiety, he may try to escape when you're not home. You may find scratches on doors, windowsills, and furniture. A frightened dog may even sustain injuries trying to escape.

SIGNS OF SEPARATION ANXIETY

A dog with separation anxiety only engages in destructive behavior when his owner is away. If your pet does one or more of the following during your absence, he may have separation anxiety.


  • Mood changes when you prepare to leave
  • Barking and howling
  • Pacing
  • Escape attempts
  • Destroying Furniture, Doors, and Windows
  • Urinating and Defecating

Take precautions to prevent your dog from injuries until you can properly treat your dog’s separation anxiety. Use anti-chew spray to discourage chewing on items that may harm his teeth. Hire a pet-sitter or have a trusted neighbor watch your dog, even if you’re only going to be away for an hour.

WHY DO DOGS DEVELOP SEPARATION ANXIETY?

There's no conclusive reason dogs develop separation anxiety. It's important to note that more shelter dogs are diagnosed with separation anxiety than single-family dogs. The trauma caused by being separated from their human family often stays with them after they're adopted. Other reasons for separation anxiety include:


Death or Departure of a Household Member

When a family member, roommate or other household member moves away, a pet can develop separation anxiety.


Moving to a New Residence

Moving to a new residence may trigger separation anxiety in a dog, especially if the new space is dramatically different. Moving from a large house to an apartment may upset a dog used to having lots of space to play.

Medical Issues

Certain medications make dogs urinate or soil themselves when they’re left alone for extended periods without supervision. Always check product leaflets to find out what prescriptions have side effects. Kidney disease, bladder stones, and problems relating to spay surgery also lead to excessive urination. If defecation or urination is the only symptoms of your dog’s separation anxiety, a medical problem may be the cause.


Poor House training

An improperly house trained dog, or one punished during housetraining, may be afraid to pee or poop in front of her owner and only relieve himself when alone.

CRATING

If your dog has separation anxiety, crating him while you’re gone may be the best resolution to the problem. 


Use a crate that's large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down. It should have enough space for your dog's treats and a few small toys. Never force your dog into the crate. Introduce it to him like it's part of a fun adventure. Put the focus on the crate as a safe "hiding place" with his favorite toys. Doing this takes your pet's attention away from your impending absence. 


Crate your dog for 15 minutes a day when you’re home. This prevents the animal from associating the crate with your departure. Put him in his crate before you prepare to leave, with his favorite toys and treats to keep him occupied while you get ready for your outing. 

Drape a blanket or towel over the back of the crate to block out bright lights and create a dark, safe space for him to sleep. Many dogs become so comfortable in their crates they prefer to sleep there even when their humans are home. 


Gradually build up your dog’s alone time in the crate. Once he learns to enjoy his new den, he won’t balk when you put him there before your departure.

LEARNED BEHAVIOUR

Some behaviors that seem like separation anxiety may be learned behavior or simulated separation anxiety instead. A dog exhibits simulated separation anxiety by doing bad things to get your attention. Control this behavior with crating and gentle discipline.

TREATMENTS FOR REDUCING SEPARATION ANXIETY

Behavior Modification

According to “Behavior modification and pharmacotherapy for separation anxiety in a 2-year-old pointer cross” by Michelle Lem, de-emphasizing departure cues around dogs reduces their anxiety. 


You may unknowingly reinforce this bad behavior by making a fuss before you leave the house. Your dog senses something is going on and becomes agitated or depressed. Train your dog to remain calm before you leave by ignoring him if he follows you around or barks. Put on your coat and take out your car keys when the dog is in another room. This prevents him from associating those actions with your departure.


Don't feed into your dog's agitation by letting him follow you to the door. Reward only desired behavior. When you put a treat on the floor to get your puppy off the dining table, he'll equate sitting on the table with treats and keep doing it. If you don't want the behavior to continue, don't reward it.

Professional Dog Training

Naturally anxious or high-strung dogs may become even more agitated when you leave the house. Crate training a nervous dog may prove difficult for even the most diligent owner. Ask your vet to recommend a dog trainer who specializes in dogs with extreme fear and anxiety to help you.


Nutrition

Changing your dog’s diet may help calm him down. Foods with artificial ingredients may cause hyperactivity and anxiety in dogs. Replace low-quality foods with an all-natural diet.

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