Taking care of a dog means there will be times you will have to leave your dog alone for a period of time. Whether it's going to work for the day or leaving your dog with a friend, there will be times you can't be the sole person responsible for taking care of your dog, or you can't physically be there to keep an eye on your dog. It's less than ideal not to have man's best friend by your side all the time. But not all places are appropriate for dogs. If you noticed your dog hasn't been faring well being alone or even introduced to new people to take care of them. Your dog could be suffering from separation anxiety. What is separation anxiety? Separation anxiety in dogs occurs when they become nervous, fearful, or stressed out when being left alone or apart from their owner. Your dog can suffer from mild or severe separation anxiety.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
As a dog owner, being available to take care of your dog, how does a dog develop separation anxiety if you are appropriately spending time with your dog? The cause of separation anxiety can occur in both young and adult dogs. Certain circumstances can contribute to why your dog has become very stressed out when left alone. Amy Flowers, DVM from WebMD, explained specific causes of why your dog has been suffering from separation anxiety:
- Transitioning from the shelter to a brand new home
- New ownership
- Being left alone for the first time
- Being alone when used to being around other people (such as roommates, family members, etc.).
- Changes in routine/schedule
- Experiencing grief from the loss of a family or pet member
Signs of Separation Anxiety
How do you know your dog is suffering from separation anxiety? Many signs point to your dog having separation anxiety. As a dog owner, it is essential to recognize the signs and contact your vet to further confirm your dog's symptoms and figure out a plan to help reduce their anxiety. Stephanie Gibeault, MSc, CPDT from the American Kennel Club, has outlined certain signs to look out for if you believe your dog is suffering from separation anxiety:
- Excessive vocalization before leaving, such as barking, howling or whimpering
- Excessive drooling or panting
- Anxious behaviors such as pacing and trembling
- Accidents at home such as defecation and urination, even if they are housebroken
- Desperately trying to leave confinement
- Destructive behavior such as chewing and digging, especially near doors and windows
How to Treat Separation Anxiety
As mentioned before, dogs can suffer from either mild or severe separation anxiety. Make sure you speak to your veterinarian to confirm your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. Though your dog may be exhibiting all of the signs, it's best not to diagnose your dog all by yourself. It's essential to have a doctor's opinion if your dog may be exhibiting certain behaviors due to medicines they're taking, infections, etc. Your vet can also advise methods and medications to help ease your dog's anxiety.
Mild separation anxiety can be treated by changing certain aspects of your routine and giving your dog something familiar to soothe their nervousness. Flowers and The Humane Society of the United States lists ways to help calm your anxious dog:
- Keep your departures and arrivals toned down. Don't acknowledge your dog within the first few minutes of arriving home, then calmly pet them.
- Provide a special treat your dog receives when you leave home
- Find an action or word to help your dog learn and understand that you will come back home later.
- Leave worn clothes with your scent on them to soothe your dog in your absence.
- Consider over-the-counter calming products to soothe your dog's anxiety.
For more severe separation anxiety cases, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises dog owners to prepare your dog for departures gradually. Easing your dog's severe symptoms will take time for your dog to get used to, but it's your responsibility to ensure the safety and health of your dog as an owner. The tips for mild separation anxiety may not do the trick for your dog if they suffer from a more severe case of separation anxiety.
Some suggestions on easing your dog's severe separation anxiety include:
- Repeatedly simulating departure tasks but not leave your home. Repeating these tasks will ease your dog's anxiety by letting them know not every time you pick up your keys, jacket, bag, or put on your shoes means that you are leaving them alone.
- Leave your dog alone for SHORT periods by letting them sit or stay as you go outside, use the bathroom, etc.
- Gradually let your dog be alone with themselves longer and longer. As a dog owner, you should be able to tell your dog's comfort level before leaving them alone all by themselves.