We adopted our husky Aura through the Lucky Dog Rescue organization a few weeks ago and she has really made our home complete. She is so well-behaved, housebroken, rarely barks, and sometimes even comes the first time you call her name! However, there is one problematic behavior she has been displaying.
My partner and I work opposite schedules so most of the time someone is home with her, but when we do have to both be away she will take seemingly random items and chew them to pieces. Sometimes she even gets up onto tables to find things, something she wouldn’t dare do in front of one of us. I’ve done some research and this behavior appears to be a classic case of separation anxiety. Here are some dog separation anxiety solutions that you can use if your pup suffers from this condition.
To start off with I am going to explain what separation anxiety is, its symptoms, and what causes it. With that understanding we will then delve into treatments for the condition and ways to prevent your dog from developing it in the first place.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a condition where a pet experiences extreme negative emotions when left alone for even short periods of time. It can vary in severity from dog to dog and can sometimes be very easy to misidentify as bad behavior or miss altogether, especially in dogs with mild cases.
Our husky Aura has a mild case of separation anxiety which can be a common condition for a rescue dog that has experienced abandonment in the past. Aura’s separation anxiety makes life a little more difficult because someone always has to be with her or she will get herself worked up and cause destruction. I’m sure her experience is just as bad if not worse than our experience of coming home to shredded belongings.
It’s very important to understand that separation anxiety is not your dog trying to get back at you for leaving him or her alone. Your pet is truly terrified and being left alone is a traumatic experience for them so punishment will potentially make the condition worse.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
There are a number of different symptoms that could indicate a case of separation anxiety in a dog. These include but aren’t limited to;
- Ignoring food and treats when left alone.
- Attempts to escape their enclosure when left alone.
- Constant barking, whining, and howling when left alone.
- Urination, defecation, and even eating of feces when left alone.
- Tendency to follow owners around the house when they are home.
- Clawing and chewing at furniture and objects within the home when left alone.
- Upon arriving home dog may act extremely over-excited, as if owner had been gone for ages.
- Salivation and exhibiting other signs of stress (panting, pacing, trembling, dilation of pupils) when owner is preparing to leave.
A dog with separation anxiety may exhibit all or only a few of the symptoms listed above.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
It’s important to keep in mind that every dog is a unique individual with his or her own past but here are a few possible causes that might lead a dog to develop separation anxiety.
- Dog has been neglected.
- Dog is moved to a new environment.
- Dog is abandoned or has a change of ownership.
- Death of a dog’s companion, human or another pet.
- Dog has been coddled and relies too heavily on its owner.
- Adopting a dog before it’s old enough to be away from its mother.
- Change in schedule where dog is suddenly left alone for extended periods of time, often for the first time.
Dogs are complex creatures and while a few typical causes are listed above, other factors can potentially contribute to the development of separation anxiety in a pet.
Treatments for Separation Anxiety
If your pet is affected by separation anxiety the good news is that there are a number of dog separation anxiety solutions to try.
- Desensitize your dog to signals indicating your departure. Do this by picking up your keys or putting on your shoes but don’t leave the house, just hang out for awhile. Doing this a couple times of day for a few weeks will teach your pup that these signals don’t necessarily mean you are going to leave soon.
- Exercise or play with your dog before you leave. A tired dog is less likely to get worked up so if possible try to get up a little earlier for work and go on a walk or run with your dog. Not only is this a great bonding experience but your pup will most likely be too tired to focus on their anxiety.
- Train your dog to be alone in a different part of the house. You can do this by teaching them to stay and then walking into another room. Gradually increase the time you make your dog stay in the other part of the house from seconds to minutes, maybe even an hour if necessary.
- Crate train your dog. By creating a space that is reserved for your pup where you can pet and give him or her treats you are creating a safe space that encourages independence from you.
- When arriving back home ignore your dog until they greet you calmly. You want to project calm and assertive energy when leaving and when arriving home. Dogs are very intuitive creatures and will pick up on your emotions. If you make a big deal out of leaving by giving a grand goodbye this can exacerbate your dog’s separation anxiety.
- Leave the house for short periods of time, gradually increasing the time you’re gone. The severity of your dog’s condition will dictate how long these short periods of time are. For some dogs you can quickly extend the time by minutes but other dogs need a little more work and these periods of time should be increased by seconds when starting out. Start with an initial goal of being able to leave for 5 minutes, then 20 minutes, then an hour and be sure to approach these goals with plenty of patience and love.
- Leave background noise on when you leave. This can be as simple as a television or you can even leave an audiobook or YouTube playlist of relaxing music playing when you leave. Recent discoveries indicate that dogs can understand quite a bit of human language and love being read to.
- Give your dog a special toy or treat reserved only for when you leave. This toy or treat should be durable enough to keep your dog’s attention for at least half an hour. This will also teach your dog to associate you leaving with something positive. A KONG® filled with something tasty is a great choice for most dogs.
- Consider the use of medication for your dog. Some dogs have such severe separation anxiety that they need anti-anxiety medication like xanax or trazodone coupled with professional training to help get over their condition. In these cases it’s best to contact a veterinarian and a professional trainer for help.
- Take your dog to a sitter or doggy daycare. Maybe there is a trusted neighbor you could leave your dog with during the day. There are many affordable doggy daycare options located in the Phoenix area.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can be a lifelong condition for dogs so the best ‘cure’ is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Luckily, many of the same treatments for separation anxiety can be used to prevent separation anxiety!
- Crate train your dog. It’s very important that your dog has a safe place and that they enjoy their time in it.
- Get plenty of exercise. A tired dog is less likely to be destructive and get into trouble.
- Reserve a special treat or toy for when you leave your dog alone. Take the toy or treat and put it away as soon as you arrive home. This will teach your pup to associate something good with you being gone.
- Don’t make a big deal over arrivals and departures. When leaving don’t give a long-drawn-out goodbye as this can be a trigger for separation anxiety. When you get back don’t greet your dog until he or she is calm.
Can We ‘Cure’ Dog Separation Anxiety?
Unfortunately there is no sure-fire way to cure a dog of separation anxiety and some dogs will develop it despite our best preventive efforts. At least now you are equipped with the knowledge on what dog separation anxiety is, its symptoms, potential causes, and possible treatments for dealing with the condition.
For more information on dog separation anxiety check out these articles from the Animal Humane Society and the American Kennel Club.
Do you think your pet suffers from separation anxiety? Leave a comment below with their symptoms or what worked for you in curing it!