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Basics on Separation Anxiety in Dogs (and How to Prevent It)

By March 9, 2018February 11th, 2019No Comments

If you are a dog owner who needs to wake up and go to work every morning, you know that there is one moment in every day that is heartbreaking: leaving the house.

Your dog may look sad and upset that you are leaving, and you feel so guilty about it. The upside is that he will feel excited when he sees you coming back home. The happiness and excitement he shows prove how much he loves you.

However, the time period between the moment you leave the house and the moment you come back is a stressful period for the dog. He might be sad, bored, or worse; anxious.

Separation anxiety is a common issue that dog owners have to deal with. Their dogs are simply not ready to watch them leave, even if they will return a few hours later.

This article will explain what separation anxiety is, its symptoms, and how to prevent it from making your dog go crazy.

What is Separation Anxiety?

As its name suggests, it is when your dog feels anxious when he is left alone for any length of time. There are three cases of separation anxiety in dogs: simulated, mild, and extreme.

Simulated separation anxiety is a trained behavior. When you give attention to your dog for misbehaving, he learns to act up to get more of your attention. That’s why he may whine and act anxious as you’re about to leave the house. Rewarding him with pets and treats just makes his behavior worse every time.

Mild separation anxiety is an actual problem. Usually, your dog isn’t too anxious, but he feels stressed when he is alone. He may misbehave when you leave, but he’s doing it on purpose. That’s how he copes with both the sense of boredom and fear.

Extreme separation anxiety is the situation where your dog simply cannot tolerate being left alone no matter what. Your dog is feeling insecure and loses confidence when he sees the cues of you leaving. A dog with extreme separation anxiety would usually behave uncontrollably as soon as you make any insinuation that you’re about to leave him alone.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

Some signs may indicate that your dog has separation anxiety. However, if these symptoms show when you are still in the house, they probably mean something other than anxiety. Therefore, you should hurry to the vet and figure out how to help your dog.

Urinating and Defecating: Your dog may pee inside the house in fear of the unknown. If he does when he is alone, he is most likely having separation anxiety issues. Otherwise, here are other reasons why your dog may be urinating excessively.

Howling and Barking: Your neighbors only hate your dog because he barks a lot when you leave the house. It is a common symptom of separation anxiety in a dog. Your dog will bark for a long time and without stopping. If you have a German Shepherd Husky crossbreed, you probably know how a deep howling voice sounds like as well as their other adorable traits. However, if something triggers his barking, that’s a different issue.

Home Destruction: If your dog feels bored and anxious at the house, he will find a way to entertain himself. Usually, that includes destroying your furniture, biting and ripping anything he can fit in his mouth. You’ll be surprised at how much damage a dog can make when he is anxious.

Escape Attempts: Locking up your dog in the house is not the best thing to do if he suffers from severe separation anxiety. He will try to leave the house by scratching the door, breaking windows, and doing whatever he can to find a way out.

How to Prevent Separation Anxiety?

If you know that you won’t be home all day every day with your dog, then you need to consider some preventive measures. You can help your dog not develop separation anxiety if you follow a proper obedience training from the very beginning.

1 – Start at an Early Age

When your dog was a puppy, you barely gave him any space of his own. But when he grew, you want to leave him alone at home. Or as soon as you got him as a rescue– guilt set in and you can’t bear the thought of abandoning him in your home after all he’s been through! Unfortunately, you have trained your dog to be entirely dependent on you, and leaving him to be independent now isn’t a viable option.

Instead, when you take your dog for basic training and socialization sessions, you should allow him to discover the world on his own. He needs to be more confident finding his own limits. You should also start leaving him alone for short periods of time. As those periods increase, he can learn that you leaving the house is normal.

2 – Keep it Casual and Assertive

Because you feel guilty that you’re leaving your dog alone, you spend a few minutes telling him you’ll miss him all day. In fact, you are increasing his anxiety as you’re making a big deal out of you going to work every day.

Instead, you should just tell your dog goodbye and leave the house. If you’re not making this a big fuss, he will learn that it is not worth all the trouble. The same should happen when he greets once you’re back home. A gentle pat on the head is enough. Giving your dog too much attention raises his anxiety levels.

3 – Do Away with Boredom

Even if your dog doesn’t suffer from separation anxiety, he will have to deal with boredom. The best cure for that is to keep his mind entertained. You can use toys that you can fill with his favorite treats. Leaving the TV or radio on can also help. A sound choice is a sound machine!

Once your dog associates you leaving the house with awesome food, he will feel more at ease. Also, taking him for a morning walk will take some of his energy away. It’ll help him spend most of the day asleep until you get back home. This means he will have a lot of energy to burn once you’re back, though.

4 – Leaving Your Dog Alone 

In cases of severe separation anxiety, especially with adult dogs, you will have to train him slowly and for months. If your sudden change of routine does not allow you to prepare your dog for those long absences, you can ask someone else to fill for you.

5. – Enroll Your Dog in Doggie Daycare

Your dog can benefit greatly by attending a daycare for dogs. This can help ease his need to be with a person all the time and be the companion dog he knows in his heart of heart is his job.

Usually, the dog only wants someone to keep him company. No person in particular, but the more familiar, the better. If you can arrange for a family member or a friend to look after your dog, that would be great. Otherwise, you can look for a dog sitter to handle him for you. Need to travel? The concierge at your hotel can generally recommend a pet sitter or dog nanny to hotel pet sit while you need to step away. 

Conclusion

Your dog only has separation anxiety because he does not want to be left alone. Most of the time, you’re depriving your dog of his natural instinct to protect, retriever, or herd. You need to prepare him for such scenarios from an early age. Otherwise, you will need to adjust your time to make sure your dog is never left alone.

This article was contributed by Sarah Zayn of Diamond Pup.  

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