Separation Anxiety in Dogs – Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Imagine this: It’s been a long day at work, you’re stressed out, but relieved it’s over and can’t wait until you get home to be greeted by your lovely dog. You’re smiling just thinking about all the happy moments of your dog jumping on you and giving you a good old lick.

…but rather than warm sloppy kisses and frantic wagging of tails, you see utter destruction around you; torn up pillows, shredded newspaper bits, and upturned garbage everywhere. And sitting in the corner looking guiltier than a baby covered in chocolate, is your dog.

What the hell just happened. You may ask yourself.

This could be a big sign of separation anxiety.

We all know that one of the biggest problems that can occur with your dog is anxiety because they can’t really speak to you and tell you what they’re going through. It can be painful to watch and guess.

What is separation anxiety?

I’m sure you’ve heard the term separation anxiety tossed around quite a bit. Whenever your pet owning friend goes on vacation they’ve probably said something along the lines of “Gosh, poor pup always gets separation anxiety whenever I leave her at home!”

Separation anxiety is simply put, anxiety that is triggered when pets are left alone without their owners or loved ones, and usually manifests itself in destructive behavior.

You can think of it like depression. This not only adds to the emotional guilt we all feel when we leave our beloveds home alone while we

This not only adds to the emotional guilt we all feel when we leave our beloveds home alone while we work but also to the economic burden of having pets, as the damage done can end up being quite costly.

Now does this mean all destructive behavior is a sign of a dog having separation anxiety? Not exactly. Let me explain.

How do I know if my dog is going through separation anxiety?

At times it can be hard to differentiate between the destructive behavior brought on by separation anxiety as opposed to those that just need some good house training. To the untrained eye, the two are indistinguishable, but with a little bit of knowledge, you’ll be able to see the difference.

It’s important to note, however, that to accurately pick up on the symptoms of separation anxiety vs symptoms of a poorly housetrained pup, it’ll be very useful to have Fido fully house trained.

In order to be able to recognize destructive behavior from separation anxiety, here are some of the signs that indicate that your dog may have separation anxiety.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

  • Pacing or nervousness as you prepare to leave
  • This is one of the most telltale signs of separation anxiety
  • If every morning, as you prepare to leave for work, and find Fido yawning or pacing nervously by the door, it’s a clear sign of separation anxiety.
  • Instant howling or barking after you leave
  • The moment the door shuts behind you barkbarkbarkhowlllll
  • Poor Fido is already upset at you leaving, and is clearly letting you know it
  • Escape attempts
  • In Fido’s desperation to leave his isolation, he may try frantically to escape the house and get to you.
  • Signs of this would be excessive clawing or chew marks on the doors or gates
    Coprophagia

What’s coprophagia you may ask? It’s a fancy word for poo eating
If a dog or puppy with separation anxiety is left alone, they may turn to eating their own feces.
Unusual urination and defecation.

Bearing in mind that I’m really addressing this issue in older, house trained dogs, any urination or defecation in the house is a warning sign for separation anxiety.

How to treat and deal with separation anxiety

Let’s break down separation anxiety into two categories for treatment: mild separation anxiety and severe separation anxiety.

Here’s how to help deal with mild separation anxiety:

  • Positive reinforcement via counter-conditioning training
    • It sounds complex, but it’s pretty simple and straightforward!
    • Basically teach Fido that even though you’ll have to leave, he’ll be rewarded for behaving while you’re gone.
  • You can do this by giving him a chew toy or a treat before you leave
  • Make sure to use a toy or treat that is durable enough to last 15 minutes or so.
  • It’s important to only give Fido this toy when you leave for long periods of time.
  • The goal here is to turn his apprehension of you leaving and turn it into a positive emotion, as he gets the special toy or treat to enjoy

Now for severe separation anxiety, here are some helpful tips:

  • Slowly ease Fido into separation training
  • Leave him for extremely short periods of time before returning
  • When you get back, praise him and shower him with compliments
  • You can also utilize the counter-conditioning training as you would for dogs with mild separation anxiety.
  • But with extreme cases, consulting a certified pet behavior professional will be essential in successfully deal with severe separation anxiety.

Is it possible to get medication for separation anxiety?

Depending on how severe your dog’s separation anxiety is, and based on what the root causes of it is, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medication to keep Fido clam while you are out.

But as with most medications, it’s not ideal to keep Fido on any of them for long term.

It’s hella important that before you do start Fido on any medication, make sure to get a complete physical exam, so that your doctor will know for a fact that it is caused by separation anxiety, rather than an underlying physical condition.

 

 

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