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Our canine companions are amazing! They offer us unconditional love, unlimited snuggles, opportunities for adventure, and more. They ask so little in return from us. Therefore, when our pups are not happy and healthy, we look for ways to combat whatever might be ailing them. One issue that plagues many otherwise healthy dogs is separation anxiety, and we pet parents may feel as if the issue is our fault because we can’t be without furry friends 24/7.
Have you ever returned home, even after a quick run to the store, only to find garbage strewn throughout the house or a favorite pillow torn to bits? Maybe your dog whines and barks excessively while you’re away, even if you walk to the mailbox and back. Perhaps Fido urinates or defecates if you step out, even though you took him out for a potty break just before you left. Have you noticed scratch marks on the door after you left to run errands? All of these are symptoms of separation anxiety.
Dog separation anxiety affects all breeds, although some breeds are more prone to the issue than others. Separation anxiety is an episode of severe distress that dogs exhibit when left alone, even for as short a time as fifteen minutes or half an hour. What can you do to help Fido work through the issue? Some pet parents have resorted to medication, but there are some other steps you can take for treating separation anxiety and to help your dog cope with the stress she experiences when you have to be away.
Why has my dog developed separation anxiety?
Keep in mind that some breeds are more prone to developing what amounts to a mental issue when compared to other breeds. These breeds include:
- Labrador Retriever
- English Cocker Spaniel
- Bichon Frise
- German Shorthaired Pointer
- German Shepherd
- Toy Poodle
- Border Collie
- Australian Shepherd
Other breeds that may develop separation anxiety include the Jack Russell Terrier, the Greyhound, the Maltese, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and King Charles Spaniel.
These breeds tend to develop deep bonds with their owners, and typically, this is a great trait for a dog breed. However, if you plan on procuring a dog listed here, you should be proactive in taking steps to prevent separation anxiety.
Dogs that have been abused or abandoned and rescued may also develop separation anxiety. Again, you can be proactive in preventing separation anxiety in these dogs.
Other dogs may develop separation anxiety for no reason. There is some research that states dogs that are deaf may be more prone to separation anxiety than others.
Another reason some dogs are currently developing separation anxiety is due to more pet owners heading out to work. Those dogs whose families were home during summer vacation or who have transitioned from working at home to going back to the office may see their dogs exhibit separation anxiety.
Why do some dogs develop separation anxiety, especially if they’re not one of the aforementioned breeds?
Has the dog ever had a major change, such as the change of a guardian? Have the children—perhaps her favorite playmates—gone back to school after summer vacation? Have you had a shift change at work? Any and all of these changes can trigger separation anxiety in a dog.
Sometimes dogs will develop separation anxiety after their family moves to a new home. While you’re very excited about your new digs, Fido may seem out of place. The old, familiar smells are no longer there. This seemingly positive change may cause Fido to get anxious while you’re away.
A change in the household itself can trigger separation anxiety. If someone in the household has moved out, or, unfortunately, if there has been a death in the family, your dog may develop separation anxiety.
Are there medical reasons for developing separation anxiety?
If you notice your dog is having accidents when you are both at home and away, and it becomes a regular occurrence, then you should take her to the vet so you can rule out incontinence as a reason for soiling indoors. This is especially true if your dog is older, has been recently spayed, or suffers from one of the following issues: Cushing’s disease, kidney disease, abnormalities of the genitalia, or a neurological problem.
Some medications may cause your dog to soil indoors. If your dog takes regular medication, make a call to the vet to ensure that the medication itself doesn’t cause your dog to have an uncontrolled bladder or bowel.
You’re also going to want to make sure that your dog is fully housebroken before you assume separation anxiety is to blame. Some male dogs may be marking indoors; you may suspect this if he goes to the same place whether you’re at home or not. Keep in mind that some dogs will urinate just because they’re excited. This is not to be confused with separation anxiety.
Boredom may cause a dog to become destructive. Make sure your dog has proper exercise as well as plenty of the best indestructible toys around. If you give your dog lots of activity and toys and Fido still chews, you can bet separation anxiety is to blame.
Why should I try to prevent separation anxiety?
Dogs that develop separation anxiety can become very destructive. While you may be understanding of why your dog does this—and you may blame yourself—it is important to get the issue under control, if for no other reason than you don’t want your home destroyed every time you leave for work or to run errands.
The most important reason to treat dog separation anxiety is that some dogs can actually injure themselves when trying to escape in the hopes of getting to you.
Proper socialization doesn’t always prevent separation anxiety. In fact, a dog that has become attached to her owner and has a good relationship with her family may be prone to separation anxiety.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Before you even leave home, Fido may begin to drool or whine. Dogs are intelligent, and they often know your routine before heading out. They may get sad or anxious before you even head out! They may begin to bark incessantly or howl while you’re away. (Pet cameras can confirm this.)
Some dogs will urinate or defecate inside once you leave. At first, you may think you didn’t offer her enough opportunity to go potty before you left. However, if the dog never uses the bathroom indoors, you may be able to chalk this negative behavior up to separation anxiety. Another issue you need to watch for is your dog defecating then attempting to eat the excrement. If the dog never does this in your presence and he’s typically good at using the bathroom outdoors when he’s taken out, then you can assume your pup may be dealing with separation anxiety.
Perhaps the most distressing symptom of a dog’s separation anxiety is being destructive. This can cause you, the owner, undue stress, and it may affect the relationship you have with your dog. Keep in mind, however, that sometimes being destructive can actually injure your dog. They may tear their nails or break a tooth digging and scratching.
Potentially trying to escape is an issue, but some dogs will pace back and forth at the entryway you normally use until you return. Other dogs will walk in circles.
How can I be certain that separation anxiety is to blame?
If your dog has no medical issues and is not bored, if he is fully house trained as well, but you still aren’t completely sure that separation anxiety is causing the bad behavior, then you can set up some fairly inexpensive pet cameras that will let you watch him while you’re away. This should give you concrete proof as to why your dog is behaving negatively while you’re away at work or out briefly.
What are some treatments for separation anxiety in dogs?
Counterconditioning is a method by which you can train a dog to replace the fear or negative feelings associated with a situation with positive feelings and relaxation . You’ll have to replace your dog’s anxiety and fear with something the dog loves. You can feed your dog just before you leave. Give her a treat and praise her. Provide a food puzzle toy with treats inside so that Fido can be “occupied” plus she gets a treat in the end. The objective is to make sure that you give the dog something that will take at least twenty or thirty minutes to accomplish, and slip out. Keep in mind that this will only work in mild cases of separation anxiety.
If your dog has severe separation anxiety, you may have to take more drastic measures. You may have to gradually get your dog used to being alone. You may have to consider medication but talk with your vet, or even a veterinary behaviorist, before purchasing something over the counter.
A really good way to combat separation anxiety is crate training—it’s best to crate train a puppy as younger dogs are easier to teach. What you’ll want to do is purchase a wire kennel or any of today’s best dog crates so that Fido can still see outside while crated. Make the crate a comfortable place for your dog. Place a favorite blanket inside, along with some favorite toys. You can also purchase water and food bowls that attach to the crate to prevent spilling and messes.
Crates work really well, and many times, dogs will come to see their crate as a secure spot that belongs just to them if crate training is done properly.
A word to the wise—when you crate your dog, do your best not to make a big deal of your leaving. However, when you do return home, greet Fido and give him a treat. You want them to realize that you will come home, and, when you do, it will be a happy time for him.
1. Can separation anxiety in dogs be cured?
Not completely, but it can be treated. You may have to do counterconditioning, or you may have to crate your dog while you’re away. It IS a manageable condition, however.
2. Can separation anxiety hurt a dog?
Yes! Dogs can injure themselves by trying to escape. If they get into the garbage, they could cut themselves on the sharp edges of a tin can, or they could eat something that is toxic. Some dogs will tear their nails trying to escape, or they may break a tooth while chewing something.
3. Should you crate a dog with separation anxiety?
Yes! Crating your dog is a great way to treat separation anxiety. However, if you haven’t crate trained your dog previously, then you need to go slowly or that treatment could backfire. You want to purchase a wired kennel, and, the first few times, you’ll want to place Fido in the crate while you’re at home (he needs to be able to see and hear you). If Fido takes to the crate, then you can leave him there for extended times while you’re away.