Just like us humans, dogs also suffer from major separation anxiety. For this reason it is very important to make them feel loved and very comfortable. When pet owners leave their dogs alone, one of the most common complaints is that they are disruptive or destructive. Their dogs may urinate, defecate, bark, howl, chew, dig, or attempt to flee. Although these issues are frequently signs that a dog needs to be taught proper house manners, they can also be signs of sadness. When a dog’s troubles are accompanied by additional distress behaviours, such as drooling and displaying worry when his pet parents prepare to leave the house, it isn’t indication that the dog isn’t house trained or doesn’t recognise which toys are his to chew. Instead, these are symptoms of separation anxiety in the dog. Separation anxiety occurs when dogs get distressed because they are separated from their guardians, or the people to whom they are bonded. Escape efforts by dogs suffering from separation anxiety are sometimes intense, resulting in self-injury and household devastation, particularly near departure locations such as windows and doors.
When their guardians prepare to depart, some dogs with separation anxiety get nervous. Others appear worried or melancholy prior to the departure of their guardians or when their guardians are not there. Some people strive to keep their guardians from departing. Typically, when a guardian leaves a dog with separation anxiety alone, the dog will begin barking and exhibiting other distress behaviours within a short period of time—often within minutes. When the guardian arrives home, the dog acts as if he hasn’t seen his mother or father in years!
The objective of treating a dog with separation anxiety is to alleviate the dog’s underlying fear by training him to enjoy, or at the very least accept, being left alone. This is achieved by arranging things such that the dog encounters the circumstance that causes him worry, namely being alone, without feeling afraid or anxious.
Common Separation Anxiety Symptoms
The following are some of the signs of separation anxiety:
· Defecating and Urinating
When left alone or removed from their guardians, some dogs urinate or defecate. If a dog urinates or defecates in the company of his guardian, it is unlikely that his house soiling is motivated by separation anxiety.
· Howling and barking
When left alone or separated from his guardian, a dog suffering from separation anxiety may yelp or howl. This type of barking or wailing is persistent and appears to be provoked by nothing other than being left alone.
· Chewing, digging, and destroying
When left alone or separated from their guardians, some dogs with separation anxiety chew on items, door frames or window sills, dig at doors and gateways, or damage household belongings. These activities can lead to self-injury, including broken teeth, cut and scratched paws, and damaged nails. If a dog’s chewing, digging, and damage are triggered by separation anxiety, they normally do not occur in the company of his guardian.
When a dog with separation anxiety is left alone or separated from his guardian, he may attempt to escape from a limited environment. The dog may try to dig and gnaw through doors or windows, resulting in self-injury such as broken teeth, cut and scraped front paws, and damaged nails. If the dog’s escape habit is triggered by separation anxiety, it does not happen while his guardian is around.
When left alone or separated from their guardians, some dogs will walk or trot along a specified path in a defined pattern. Some pacing dogs move in circular patterns, while others walk in straight lines back and forth. Pacing behaviour in a dog triggered by separation anxiety normally does not occur while his guardian is around.
Portion dogs defecate and then swallow all or some of their faeces when left alone or away from their guardians. If a dog consumes faeces due to separation anxiety, he most likely does not do it in the company of his guardian.
How to prevent separation anxiety?
· Separation anxiety in puppies may be averted with adequate socialisation and training.
Puppies should be socialised with both other animals and humans (See handout “Puppy Behavior and Training – Socialization and Fear Prevention”). Puppies must learn to spend time alone and occupy themselves with their toys. When you bring your puppy out of his alone time to mingle with the family, make sure he is quietly playing with his toys. Reward the actions you wish your dog to repeat. A well-adjusted puppy will perform well alone or with the family and will be less likely to have separation anxiety in the future.
· Create a routine that is predictable.
Because your dog is worried, you should start by making his day more quiet and predictable, whether you are at home or away. Create a regular pattern for your dog so that he may learn to predict when he can expect attention (including exercise, food, training, play, and elimination) and when he can expect inattention (when it should be napping or playing its favoured toys). Schedule these periods for object play and naps during your typical departure hours.
· Enriching your dog’s environment – satisfying his or her demands
When you’re dealing with your dog, make sure you’re addressing all of his demands for social contacts, play, exercise, training, and elimination. In effect, you should begin enough frequent interaction sessions and offer enough play and attention that your dog is ready to calm down and relax after each session is done. At this stage, new exploratory and chew toys may be provided to your dog so that he has new and motivating things to focus on when it is time to relax. Feeding toys can also be used instead of regular meal dishes to make feeding time more of a mental and physical challenge.
· Teach yourself how to “settle” (see Teaching Calm – Settle and Relaxation Training).
The objective of training is for your dog to learn to relax on cue. Before you give your dog a treat, make sure he is calm and reclining on his bed or mat (or kennel). Not only should attention-seeking behaviour be ignored, but all casual contacts should be avoided for the first few weeks so that both you and your dog understand that a settled reaction results in rewards and attention seeking does not. Use food lures, clicker training, or head halter training to practise down stays and mat exercises, whichever is most beneficial. Shape lengthier visits and longer hours on the bed or mat before receiving attention, love, treats, or play.