Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Dogs: our beloved furry friends that we love so much.  And they love us back!  So much so, that sometimes they get upset when we leave them for any period of time.

Of course not all dogs will suffer from this anxiety ridden, destructive behavioral problem.  It is unknown as to why some dogs suffer from this, while others do not.  However research suggests that dogs that had a rough start in life tend to gravitate towards this problem.  Dogs that were abandoned, surrendered or abused early on, can carry those scars with them for a lifetime.

Being pack animals, dogs aren’t conditioned to be left alone.  They want to always be with their pack, and in today’s world that means you! You are their pack leader, and when you are gone they don’t know what to do with themselves. Further, they don’t know when or if you will return.  That can be frightening to our four legged loved ones, especially those who have suffered traumas in the past.

Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety can display the following symptoms:

  • Digging and scratching at doors and windows in an attempt to be able to reunite with their owners.
  • Destructive chewing that sometimes results in loss of furniture, shoes, curtains, etc…
  • Howling, barking and whining.
  • Urination and defecation indoors, even with otherwise house trained dogs.

Of course the above behaviors are undesirable to any pet owner, but they can also be harmful to your pet.  Self injury, such as broken teeth, cut and scraped paws,  damaged nails, intestinal issues, and puncture wounds are just a few of the effects that can be felt from this behavior.

So, what should you do?  First and foremost, you should talk to your vet.  Your vet can rule out any other underlying issues that may be at play, and if needed, can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication for your dog.

You can also try to condition your dog to realize that when you are gone, he gets rewarded. Filling a Kong toy (or similar toy) with a yummy treat to leave with him while you are gone is a great way to get his attention off the fact you are gone, and onto the yummy treat at hand.  Kong’s are a great tool to use in that the dog will have to work to get the food out of them.  This encourages chewing and licking, which have natural calming effects on the dog.

Also, you can try to condition your dog with puppy steps, to help him realize you won’t be gone forever.  Start out by leaving him alone for only a minute or two.  Gradually work your way up, with a few weeks worth of daily exercises, until you can leave him alone for several hours on end.  As you probably realized, this is not a quick fix method.  But if done right, it has a good chance at your pet, which in turn helps you!

If you need to leave your dog for a longer period of time, consider a doggy daycare program.  This is a great way to help your dog be active and have his mind occupied while you are gone.  Then when you get home, he should be nice and tired so you two can have a nice quiet evening at home.

When leaving your dog overnight or for several nights, make sure to find a lodging facility that has hands on options for playing with your dog and spending time with your dog.  By signing him up for activities through the lodging facility, you will ensure he will not have time to dwell on the fact you are gone, but also he will have a great time while you are away.

Make sure to let the lodging facility know of your dog’s anxiety issues, and find a facility that is willing to work with you.  Some facilities will allow you to make short visits to meet the staff, and get some treats. Several “pre-visits” will increase comfort levels in you and your dog. Facilities that are willing to work with you will make suggestions as to how many pre-visits might be needed.

The key to helping him overcome his anxiety while you are away is to provide positive experiences while he is not with you.