Helping Your Dog Cope with Separation Anxiety
Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety? If so, you are not alone. In fact, separation anxiety affects many dogs and it is one of the most common complaints of pet owners across the country. This anxiety occurs when the dog is left at home alone. In severe cases, a dog may experience an increased stress level if their owner simply goes in another room or outside for a brief period. The good news is that there are several things you can do to help your dog cope with this condition.
Signs of Separation Anxiety
If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety when you leave the home, you are definitely going to know it. In fact, you may even notice your dog’s anxiety level increase as you are preparing to leave for the day. Your dog may race around the house and become extremely clingy or even try to block you from leaving your home. You may also hear barking, whining, and/or howling as soon as you walk out of the house.
Unfortunately, these are just the mild signs of separation anxiety in your dog. As your dog’s stress level increases, he may become very destructive and display signs, such as urinating and defecating in the house, chewing on furniture, shoes, or other belongings, and scratching your walls and floors. In some cases, a dog in stress can destroy several items in the home, while you are gone.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
There is no set cause for why some dogs experience separation anxiety, while other do not. However, a change in routine can increase a dog’s stress level significantly, which could lead to anxiety. This could include a change in the dog’s regular routine, the addition or loss of someone in the home, or a change in where the dog lives.
Separation anxiety is also higher among dogs that have been adopted versus dogs that were raised by the owner as a puppy. This type of anxiety is likely caused by a change in owner. Traumatic events, such as fires, natural disasters, getting lost, or an auto accident have also been known to cause dogs high levels of anxiety when they are separated from their owners.
Identifying the Type of Anxiety in Your Dog
There are basically two reasons why dogs display signs of separation anxiety. First, because they truly have an alleviated stress level and secondly, because they are trying to gain attention. It is very important for you to determine the cause for your dog’s disruptive behavior. Dogs that are craving attention will accept any type, including negative attention, even if it includes a punishment. Dogs can also be destructive if they become overly bored or they have not had enough exercise.
One way you may be able to tell the difference is to place your dog in a crate or a separate room by himself and leave the area for a short period. When you come back, pay close attention to how your dog reacted to your absence. Dogs in stress will have alleviated salivation levels, pace frequently, be extremely anxious, and/or seem very depressed.
Help for Attention Seeking Dogs
If you believe that your dog is purely seeking attention and not exhibiting true signs of anxiety while you are gone, a gradual approach is necessary. First, you want to make sure you are spending more time with your dog and making sure he get the right amount of exercise every day. Take more walks, take regular trips to the dog groomers and vet, and spend time every day playing. This will build confidence in your dog and help him to feel safe and loved even when you are not at home.
It is also important that you strengthen your leadership position with your dog. Start by teaching your dog basic commands, like sit, stay, and down. Above all else, be consistent with your training and be patient. It may take some time to rebuild your leadership role with your dog. During this process, do your best to limit your dog’s access in your home, while you are away. For example, just limit him to one room in the house until you come home.
Help for Dogs with Separation Anxiety
There are several things you can do to help your dog cope with separation anxiety, which will help to diminish his negative behaviors. The trick is to be patient when determining what techniques will work best for your dog. Once your find several methods to help you dog deal with his anxiety level when you are not with him, be consistent. This is the only way you will help your dog overcome this issue.
Consistent Routine – Dogs thrive on consistency and if their regular schedule is interrupted, it could cause anxiety. Try to be as consistent as possible when it comes to feedings, walks, playtime, and bedtime. This can help your dog feel secure about the day and reduce his stress level. If you do have to make changes to the schedule, introduce these changes slowly to give you dog time to adjust.
Counter conditioning – This is a common practice used to help dog suffering from separation anxiety. The idea is to provide your dog with a special reward every time you leave the home. One great option is to use a puzzle toy that has a hidden treat inside. This toy should be given to your dog every time you leave the home and only when you leave. It will take him 20 minutes, or so, to retrieve the treat and provide you dog with some time to calm down. Soon, your dog will start to associate you leaving with receiving a treat.
Give Dog Some Alone Time – Another great option is to give your dog practice being along. This could include taking short trips several times a week or ordering your dog to sit and stay while you go in another room. The point of these exercises is to show your dog that you will come back. You can also give your dog some confidence by letting him do things without you. For example, when you go to the Tucson dog groomers, move yourself out of view until the groomer is done.
Change Your Routine – While you do not want to change your dog’s routine, there is nothing wrong with changing your routine, especially when it comes to leaving the home. If you always do the same routine right before you leave the house, your dog will start to notice and will become anxious before you even leave. Try switching things up a little by doing things like putting your coat on 15 minutes before you leave or using a different door. If you can reduce this initial anxiety, your dog’s stress level may be reduced the entire time you are gone.
Do not Overreact – Many families try to help ease their dog’s anxiety by overwhelming them with love and affection right before they leave the home. While their intentions are good, this could actually make things worse. It is better to leave the house quietly, even if your dog starts to show signs of anxiety. The harder you make the leaving process for you dog, the worse his stress level will be while you are gone.
Crating – Crating your dog while you are gone can be good for some dogs, but devastating for others. If you want to try this option, it is important that you gradually introduce your dog to the crate. Use the crate when making small trips to see how your dog responds while you are gone. If after several attempts, your dog still seems in great distress when you return, crating may only be making the condition worse.
If these tips still do not help ease your dog’s anxiety, it could be due to a medical condition. Be sure to keep your dog healthy by providing enough exercise, feeding him properly, providing regular dog grooming, and most importantly, taking your dog to regular vet visits. Your vet may be able to give you other great tips for helping your dog overcome separation anxiety.
For more tips on dealing with separation anxiety check out Ceasr Milan’s Blog – Ceaser’s Way