Does your dog get anxious when you leave the house? Chew toys, shoes, or anything in their path while you’re gone? Do they go little bananas when you come home?
Your dog might have separation anxiety. And they’re not alone! Over 13 million dogs in the United States suffer from separation anxiety.
What causes separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety can stem from a variety of different circumstances. It is by no means the dog’s attempt to anger or frustrate you, but they are unable to manage their emotions.
Some situations that could trigger separation anxiety:
- Change in family routine or structure; birth of a new baby or loss of another pet are common changes that cause separation anxiety
- Change of ownership
- Being left alone when they are used to being with people
Signs of separation anxiety
Much like humans, dogs demonstrate distress or behavior issues when anxious. They may:
- Chew items
- Bark, whine or howl
- Have indoor accidents, even when housebroken
- Digging or scratching at windows or doors to escape
- Pace obsessively
How to treat separation anxiety
Speak to your vet to ensure that any of the symptoms mentioned above aren’t caused by any medical issues.
From there, if the problem is mild:
- Make your comings and goings calm events. Do not make a big fanfare or draw out leaving.
- Give your dog a special treat or toy when you leave, and remove it when you come home.
- See if over-the-counter calming products, usually involving lavender, have any positive effects on your dog.
- Find a word or action that you use when you leave that reassures your dog you will be back.
If the problem is more severe:
- Severe separation anxiety will not be treated by the above techniques. It will require gradual exposure to your leaving.
- Desensitize your dog to the departure. Practice the leaving routine (putting shoes on, getting bag, etc.) but not leaving each time. This will build up the dog’s exposure to this routine, and their understanding that you will return.
- Ensure your dog has adequate mental and physical exercise daily. This will help to reduce their anxiety.
- Create a safe environment for your dog where they can’t damage anything but has a comfortable spot to sleep, access to water, and toys.
- Talk to your vet to see if drug therapy is appropriate for your dog.
Keep in mind that your dog isn’t trying to anger or frustrate you. They’re struggling with distress and anxiety that they can’t express in any other way. Do not scold or punish your dog. If punished they may become even more upset and the problem could worsen.
While separation anxiety is easier to stop in its beginning stages, your dog will be able to find relief with your gentle support and some guidance along the way. Speak to your veterinarian if your dog’s separation anxiety is worsening, or if the practices above don’t help. They will be able to provide you with additional resources to help your dog.