An Overview of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Though some breeds and personalities are more likely to develop separation anxiety, dogs who have been “rehomed” are at far greater risk of developing separation anxiety than dogs born into a more stable environment. Dogs are pack animals and feel most comfortable when they are with their pack, whether their pack is composed of fellow dogs, humans, or both. Being alone is not natural for them and thus feeling abandoned by their pack can be very traumatizing.

When these rehomed dogs finally find their “forever home”, they may become overly attached to their rescuer. But when their rescuer leaves the dog alone, even for a short period of time, the dog may relive their earlier trauma in the form of separation anxiety – the often overwhelming fear that they have once again been left to fend for themselves.

Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

– Destructive behaviour such as clawing and digging at door frames, window frames, carpets and flooring, etc.; chewing on objects around the house, like stuffed animals or shoes or even biting or scratching themselves; urinating or defecating in the house, even if they’ve been properly housetrained. This destructive behaviour is exhibited whenever left alone, even for a short time. It can be so severe that significant damage is done to themselves and your home.

– Your dog follows you around the house and does not let you out of their sight, especially if they sense you might be getting ready to go somewhere. They whine, bark, or otherwise vocalize before you leave, when you leave, and/or while you are gone. You may get complaints of excessive barking from your neighbours.

– Upon your return, your dog is almost frantic and overly emotional.

Treatment

One of the most common ways to reverse separation anxiety, especially in mild to moderate cases, is sometimes referred to as exposure therapy. This just means that you slowly increase the duration of time you are away from your dog until they are calm and comfortable with both your departures and returns. Exposure therapy will not work unless you also follow the next three points:

Exercise and adequate walks can help to greatly reduce your dog’s energy and anxiety levels. Consider hiring a local dog walking company to walk and exercise your dog, especially if you are not able to take your dog for long walks during work days. Most dogs do not get enough exercise or socialization with other dogs, and this can greatly exacerbate canine separation anxiety.

Remain calm when you leave the house and when you return. Do not respond to your dog’s emotional and/or frantic behaviours. When you respond, you are reinforcing the behaviour.

Remain patient with your dog at all times, and make sure your home environment is calm, non-threatening, and stable. NEVER hit, yell at, or otherwise punish your dog. Dogs are far more responsive in stable, consistent settings.

For very severe cases of separation anxiety, when your dog has become a threat to themselves, some vets recommend the use of anti-anxiety medications. This should be used as a last resort.

 

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