How to handle a dog with Separation Anxiety

Overview

Separation Anxiety is a common problem in dogs and it can present itself in different ways. A dog with separation anxiety may become upset when your start to leave the house or start to get agitated, or it may start when you are gone. Some might try to stop you from leaving and you may have neighbors complaining about barking and howling when you are gone. Often the behavior begins within just minutes of you leaving and when you come home your dog acts like they have been abandoned for years. To handle a dog with separation anxiety you need to be prepared to put in some work and time by teaching him being alone is okay.

Symptoms in dogs with separation anxiety

Persistent barking and howling when left alone only.

Chewing objects other than his toys like door frames, shoes, furniture, curtains and so on.

Digging – Scraping at doorways damaging the floors or if left in the yard holes at the fence.

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Destroying items around the house when left alone. They may cause injury to themselves too with scraped paws and damaged teeth and nails.

Urinating and defecating around the house when left alone.

Pacing along a fixed path when left alone, sometimes in a straight line, sometimes in a circular pattern.

Trying to escape even if it causes injury to himself.

Developing coprophagia which is when the dog eats his own stool.

Reasons for developing separation anxiety

A change in family or owners can cause a dog to suffer from separation anxiety. Being abandoned or having to live in a shelter can be very upsetting for them.

If there is a change in the regular routine this can also trigger some separation anxiety, especially if it means they are now being left for longer.

Moving home can also be a factor. Moving to a new territory is a big change for dogs.

If someone in the family dies or moves out this can also trigger separation anxiety.

Other conditions or causes for the change in behavior

Separation anxiety is not the only reason for escape attempts, barking, digging and so on. It is possible there is something else going on, and this needs to be ruled out before you start treating your dog for separation anxiety. Your dog may have a medical issue causing the urinating around the house like incontinence, old age, an infection and so on. Before using behavior modification techniques make sure with your vet there is not a medical reason for it.

Some medications can also cause these side effects. If your dog is on medication for an existing condition check that it is not that condition or the treatment for it that is causing the problem.

Some dogs may have docile or exhilaration urination where they urinate when playing, greeting or being punished. Some may just be poorly trained. Either their house training was inconsistent or his training involved being punished to the point now he is scared to urinate or defecate when the owner is there and waits till they are not. Some dogs also use urine to mark their territory. Younger dogs are prone to destructive chewing anyway and just need to be trained out of it as they grow by giving them things that it is okay to chew and removing temptations while they learn.

Boredom is also a large factor in how a dog behaves. Dogs need a lot of physical and mental stimulation, walks, play and training. Teach them different interactive games, let them socialize with other dogs, take different routes or outings. When a dog is left alone if they still have a lot of energy and have nothing to entertain themselves with, they may be disruptive.

How to deal with a dog that has separation anxiety

When you go about trying to desensitize your dog from a fear they have you need to expose him to low levels of it so he does not have a full blown panic attack. This means when treating this issue you are going to need to find a way to make sure he is not alone apart from during the sessions of desensitization.

Try to arrange for a family member to dog sit, or hire a dog sitter. Take your dog to a dog care facility or see if you are allowed to bring him to work. If you are just going to run some errands and the weather is not too hot or too cold take him with you and leave him in the car. Just do not leave him in extreme conditions or for too long.

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Crate training is a useful tool for some dogs with separation anxiety. Their crate is their safe place for when they are alone. But in other cases being put into a crate causes further stress. This is something you would need to figure out by monitoring your dog. If the crate is not an option use a baby gate and keep in one room of the house until you come home.

Make sure before you leave your dog has had enough physical activity to make him tired so that he will just rest while you are gone. Provide food puzzles to keep him mentally engaged in something while you are gone or hide kibble around the yard or house. Make sure you talk to the vet before you try any medication even over the counter options and also consult with a behaviorist expert. There are drugs your vet can suggest to help keep your dog calm but behavior modification would be preferred in most cases.

Try not to scold your dog when you get in for any poor behavior while you were out. He is not doing it out of spite, they are distressed and have no way of coping. Punishing him can worsen the problem not solve it.

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