It is not fully understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and others do not, but it is known to be one of the most common causes of canine problems.
Just like children who bond with their parents and siblings, dogs form attachments with their caretakers and as social creatures, become dependent upon them for companionship and attention. In most cases, attachment implies a trusting relationship, and is usually a natural and healthy behaviour, however, when a dog becomes overly dependent, behavioural issues may result.
Possible Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
There are many reasons for dogs to have an abnormal predisposition to dependency. Sometimes puppies are removed from their mothers too early, or they are kept in pet stores or animal shelters where they feel lonely and detached.
Separation anxiety can be caused by a sudden change in environment, such as moving to a new home, or being placed in a kennel overnight, or longer. Also, it can be caused by a new addition to the family, such as a newborn, or another animal companion. In all of these scenarios, the anxiety is brought on by a feeling of isolation and fear of desertion.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety if he/she:
- Continues to follow you from room to room, whimpering and shaking, when you’re preparing to go out.
- Becomes aggressive when you try to leave. They may scratch at doors and windows in an attempt to get to you.
- their their anxiety out on chewable objects, and sometimes defecate in unacceptable places, and continuously whine, howl, and bark.
- Stops eating and drinking when you leave.
- Is overly excited and engages in an unusually prolonged greeting when you return home after a few short hours.
Treatment for Separation Anxiety
The most accepted method for treating separation anxiety involves planned departures. This method requires you to gradually adjust your dog to being alone, by exposing them to many short departures.
- Safety items may be left for them, such as a favourite blanket or chew toy. The television or radio can be left on, offering them a distraction, and a feeling of another presence in the home. It is very important that the safety item is not something that your dog already associates with anxiety.
- Your departure and return should be made as quiet and uneventful as possible to avoid overstimulation. The dog should not be given attention prior to departures, nor given attention and praise upon returns. Excessive attention prior to departure and upon return increases the anxiety during separation.
- Because the stress response will most likely begin within thirty minutes after you leave, your dog should only be left for a few minutes at a time to begin the training.
- Before you increase the time your dog is left along, ensure they are not stressed. Watch your dog closely for signs of anxiety and ensure that they are not engaging in any overly zealous, or extensive greetings. After the short departures have reached the thirty minute mark with satisfactory results, the length of time your dog is left can be increased by larger increments.
- Once your dog can be left alone for an hour and a half, they should be okay alone for a full day, but to be safe, it is better to slowly keep increasing the intervals until a full eight hours has proven successful.
If you must leave your dog alone for an extended period while treatment is occurring, Dog Appeasing Pheromones may help reduce some of the anxiety, because of their calming effect.
Anti-anxiety medications are sometimes necessary for dogs with severe separation anxiety, where behaviour modification and pheromones alone are not helping. However, in most cases, drugs do not offer a long-term solution and should be used in combination with a treatment program. A veterinarian should be consulted for further information on the safest and most effective anxiety-suppressing drugs.