Home Alone: Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Dogs

If your dog stresses out every time you leave him at home alone, you may find this insightful article on separation anxiety in dogs, originally published on The Pet Blog, helpful.

In nature dogs are sociable pack animals that live in large social groups. Domesticated dogs consider their human family to be their pack, and generally don’t like to be left alone for long periods of time. Some dogs take this to the extreme, and can suffer from separation anxiety when the owner is out of sight. Separation anxiety causes a dog to become severely stressed when their owner goes out and leaves them behind. This anxiety can manifest itself in nuisance behavior, including soiling the house, incessant barking or whining, or destructive behavior. While dogs from multi-pet households are not immune from separation anxiety, having another pet in the home to provide company will often prevent or alleviate some of the stress.

Separation anxiety in dogs is not uncommon, as the following statistics will illustrate:

  • 14-35% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety
  • 29-50% of senior dogs suffer from separation anxiety
  • 41% of dogs that suffer from separation anxiety are left untreated
  • 22% of dogs that suffer from separation anxiety are treated with behavior modification and medication
  • 17% of dogs that suffer from separation anxiety are treated with medication alone
  • 10% are treated with behavior modification alone
  • 10% are referred to dog behaviorists for help

Common Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety can occur when a dog’s safety net is suddenly removed, and can stem from a number of different causes. A young puppy that may have been removed from its mother to early may be very insecure in its new surroundings, and attach itself to the new owner. When the owner leaves the pup alone it may become insecure and show symptoms of separation anxiety. Other changes in a dog’s daily routine or surroundings may trigger separation anxiety, including the following:

  • Having spent a large amount of time in unfamiliar surroundings recently, such as a vet, boarding kennel, or animal welfare facility
  • Recently being introduced to a new home (new family)
  • Change of environment, such as moving house
  • The recent loss of a family member or pet
  • A new baby enters the home
  • A change in your working hours – or you spend more time away from home

How to Minimize Separation Anxiety in Dogs

There are a number of tactics that can be employed to help alleviate separation anxiety in dogs, and to prevent unsociable behavior associated with the anxiety the dog is feeling, including:

  1. Provide calming medication – speak to your vet who can prescribe a drug to reduce stress for the times when you have to leave your dog alone.
  2. Try to teach your dog to become more independent. This can be achieved by leaving your dog alone for short periods of time, perhaps initially while you are still at home – feed it in a separate room, leave it alone in the yard for short intervals, and gradually increasing the time frame of the periods that your pooch spends alone before you disappear for the entire day.
  3. When you have to leave your dog alone for lengthy periods, provide lots of stimulating toys or dog chews. Kongs stuffed with peanut butter and treats will provide a distraction and alleviate boredom.
  4. Some behavioral modifications may be necessary, particularly if your dog is extremely destructive, or barks incessantly, which could cause problems with your neighbors. Destructive dogs may need to be temporarily crated to prevent them from damaging the house or injuring themselves. To control barking, an ultrasonic dog bark control collar is an effective deterrent that uses positive reinforcement to train a dog not to bark uncontrollably. By emitting a high-pitched sound or vibration every time the dog barks – which both irritates and distracts the dog – a dog will quickly learn that it is more peaceful not to bark.
  5. If separation anxiety is severe, you may need to seek professional help from a dog behavior specialist, who can help you and your dog work through these issues.

Separation anxiety can affect the bond between owner and dog. An owner that comes home and finds his house wrecked on a regular basis, may eventually become despondent and relinquish the dog to an animal shelter or decide to have it euthanized. Pressure from neighbors who are fed up with the constant whining and barking of a distressed dog may cause an owner to do the same. It is therefore imperative that dog owners address separation anxiety as soon as a dog shows symptoms, seeking the help of an expert dog trainer to help them solve their pets psychological problem.

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