Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Many dogs suffer from anxiety when their owners leave them at home. Dogs will chew at household items, howl, pace and exhibit other destructive behavior when they are experiencing separation anxiety.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take that will help you identify separation anxiety in your dog, as well as help your dog become more comfortable with you coming and going.
The first step is talking to your veterinarian about any health concerns that might be causing his behavior. It is easier to diagnose separation anxiety once your vet has ruled out any physical causes.
Next, you need to gauge the level of his discomfort. For some dogs that are mildly affected like Jersey, having an opportunity to play and pee before she’s left on her own will keep her settled and relaxed when we’re gone. Due to many owners’ busy lifestyles, most dogs are merely tired of being cooped up at home alone all day. For an active dog, a short walk will not provide the sort of stimulation he or she requires to stay emotionally healthy. Active breeds thrive with active owners, so try jogging in the mornings with your dog, or run and play at the local dog park. Exercise is a great way of giving your dog a healthy outlet to express his or her energy, instead of spending it chewing on table legs or picking apart your carpet.
Toys that will provide a distraction to your pet are often helpful. Stuffing a Kong toy with a favorite treat and freezing it will give your dog hours of entertainment trying to extract the treat from the toy. There are also a variety of toys on the market that are treat-dispensing, and come in all shapes and sizes to suit any dog. Figure out what sort of activity your dog enjoys (chewing on a toy, rolling around a ball) and look for toys she might like. Jersey loves the Everlasting Treat ball, which is constructed of heavy-duty material and holds replaceable, hard treats. She loves to chew, roll and chase the toy around. Sometimes she holds it in between her front paws, closes her eyes and licks it. Bliss!
For dogs that are more severely affected, you need to spend time desensitizing your pet to your departure. Jersey always knows that we are leaving when she hears the jingle of keys, or the sound of the closet door. Work on teaching your dog that these things don’t always mean you are going to leave. Use your trigger (such as the jingle of keys), and then proceed to sit down on the couch and hang out there. Another method is “going away” for short periods of time, then extending them. This could mean leaving the house for five minutes, and then returning. Later, extending those periods to longer sessions will help reinforce to your pet that you ARE coming back. Also, when you do return do not make a fuss or get your pet overly excited. Your pet should learn that your arrivals and departures are part of the daily routine, which will decrease their anxiety.
In a small percentage of cases where the dog has severe anxiety, consulting with a veterinarian or behavioral therapist may be necessary to best help your pet. Working with a professional will help determine what forms of therapy will work best to alleviate separation anxiety in your pet.
Above all else, always bear in mind that your pet is reacting to stressful conditions, and that most pets are destructive because they are unable to help themselves. Keep any valuables or chemicals behind closed doors and out of reach.
Identifying separation anxiety will help you on the road to helping your pet. Keeping your dog physically and psychological happy will mean happy pet and a happy owner.
Hats off to you
To all kind-hearted and hard-working people at SPCA: hats off to you. I love animals and admire the work you do.