Separation anxiety is a common problem among dogs. They get anxious when their owners leave the house. Some dogs even become aggressive towards other animals when left alone.
If you own a dog, you probably know how hard it is to deal with separation anxiety. If you want to know why your dog has separation anxiety and how to stop it, keep reading.
Common Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
The following list describes some of the more common signs of separation anxiety:
- Barking excessively for long periods of time
- Biting objects
- Chewing on furniture, walls, floors, etc.
- Digging holes under fences
- Destroying property
- Escaping through windows/doors
- Howling continuously
- Jumping out of car window
- Licking door handles
- Marking territory
- Pacing back and forth
Why Do Dogs Have Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a common problem in dogs. This can be caused by many things, including:
Being left alone for long periods of time:
If you keep your dog alone for long periods of time, he may develop separation anxiety. He will become anxious and nervous when separated from his owner or other familiar people. If this happens to him often, it could lead to more serious problems such as aggression towards strangers.
Lack of exercise:
Dogs need regular physical activity to stay healthy. They also love being outside with their owners. When they are not allowed out on walks, they get bored and restless. This leads them to have separation anxiety.
Fearful experiences with other animals:
Some breeds of dogs tend to fear other animals. For example, poodles might bark at German Shepards because they were abused as puppies. Some Pit Bulls might attack small children if they see them firsthand. These fears cause the dogs to feel unsafe around unfamiliar animals.
When a dog goes into new places, especially unfamiliar ones, he becomes fearful. His body reacts to any change that makes him feel uneasy.
Inappropriate training methods:
Many trainers use harsh techniques to train their dogs. Sometimes, these methods include using shock collars and choke chains. While some of these tools work well, others do not. Using inappropriate training methods can create bad habits in your dog. In addition, they can cause severe stress which causes separation anxiety.
Stressful life events:
Sometimes stressful life events like moving house or getting married can make a dog’s behavior worse. Stress causes changes in hormones which affect moods and behaviors. Sometimes, stress can even trigger an episode of depression.
A change in their routine or environment:
Your dog has been living in one place all her life. A sudden move to another home or apartment can upset her.
The loss of an important person in your life:
You loved someone very much who passed away recently. You still miss him every day. The death of a family member or friend can leave your dog feeling sad and lonely.
An illness that causes them pain and discomfort:
There are times when your dog gets sick and needs medical attention. During those times, she cannot play or interact with anyone else. Her separation anxiety increases during this period.
Having been abused as puppies:
Puppies sometimes experience abuse while growing up. This includes neglect, abandonment, and mistreatment. Puppy mills are breeding facilities where unwanted puppies are kept together until they reach adulthood. Many puppy mill puppies suffer from health issues due to poor nutrition and lack of care.
Lack of socialization when they were young:
Most dogs start interacting with humans early in life. However, many puppies grow up without ever meeting other pets or having friends over. As a result, they don’t know how to behave around other animals.
Bad owners who don’t understand the dog’s needs:
If you own a dog but treat it badly, then it will develop negative feelings towards people. If you want to help your dog overcome his separation anxiety, you must be patient and understanding. Don’t yell at him for barking or whining. Instead, try talking calmly about what is bothering him. Try giving treats instead of punishing him.
Not knowing what is expected of them:
It takes time for most dogs to learn about themselves and their surroundings. They must be taught by their parents and caregivers before they understand what is going on. Not understanding what is happening around them can increase their anxiety levels.
Alteration of Routines or Schedules
An alteration or a change in the normal routines also has a role in the emergence of this problem of separation anxiety.
A sudden change in the course of actions is more likely to trigger a bout of withdrawal. The reasons are pretty the same as those of the shifting of the base and change of ownership.
It takes quite a while for the dog to forget about the past routine and begin to accept let alone get used to the new routines.
As is the norm with the first two incidences, it is necessary that the dog be given the space and ample time it needs to be able to settle well in the new regimes.
How to Ease Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
Below now are some of the strategies you may attempt to stop separation anxiety:
Alter the Routines slowly and steadily
Start out by altering your routines, if you have to, slowly and steadily. This will give your dog the psychological preparedness it needs to prepare for either. If you have to do so abruptly, you are asked to maintain stability and the utmost peace of mind.
You may in fact start withdrawing weeks or even several days before your actual departure. On the same note, you may also be signaling the dog well in advance before you finally get back. That approach maintains your dog in a great and welcoming mood. It also diffuses stress and tension.
Maintain some calmness when departing or returning
You are asked to be calm all the while you have to depart or return to the station wherein you are based. Being calm goes a long way in diffusing the buildup of the tension while at the same time helps your dog to acquaint itself with either eventuality.
Dogs are generally averse to anything that can cause them to be nervous or lose their cool. It hence goes that maintaining the calmness also aids in letting your dogs retain their healthy stature. That is not to mention the tons of great social and psychological benefits that ordinarily come along.
Make use of some cues
Animals learn and draw connections using cues. They easily get accustomed to patterns and prompts than humans are. In your battle against separation anxiety, consider developing some cues that are intended to slow down the menace altogether. These you could employ at varying stages of your withdrawal.
For instance, you may put in place a sign for your imminent departure, one for your imminent return, and another just to let your dog relax in peace. Deploy these signs at strategic points and places to let your dog respond to them appropriately before setting out for a departure.
How to treat minor separation anxiety
If your dog is showing signs of mild separation anxiety, there are things you can try to calm them down. Here are some tips:
Try leaving your dog alone for short periods of time during the day. This will give him more opportunities to get used to being by himself without having to deal with any major changes.
Keep your dog busy while he waits for you to return. A favorite toy or chew item can keep his mind off what might happen if you aren’t around soon.
Make sure that your dog gets lots of attention when you’re not around. A lot of dogs with separation anxiety have been neglected by previous owners who didn’t pay enough attention to them.
Give your dog something special to look forward to when you leave. For example, maybe you could buy them an extra-special meal or playtime session.
Don’t forget about training! Teaching your dog good manners and obedience skills will go a long way towards helping them cope better with situations where they don’t see you right away.
Give your dog treats before leaving the house. When you come home, give them their favorite food as well.
How to handle a more severe problem
If your dog has extreme separation anxiety, it may be necessary to seek professional help from a behaviorist or trainer. There are many different types of treatment available depending upon how bad the symptoms are. Some options include:
Behavior modification therapy – this involves teaching your dog new ways to behave in certain circumstances so that he doesn’t feel anxious. The goal here is to teach your dog to learn that these feelings won’t last forever.
Exercise and mental stimulation – If your dog suffers from excessive barking, chewing, digging, escaping, or other destructive behaviors, then one option would be to provide exercise and mental stimulation instead of just sitting at home all day.
Medication – In cases where medication isn’t effective, behavioral techniques such as desensitization and counterconditioning may work. These methods involve gradually exposing your dog to increasingly stressful situations until he learns to tolerate those situations without getting upset.
Create “Safe Place” – You should also make sure that your dog knows exactly where he’ll find safety when you’re gone. Make sure that he’s familiar with every room in your house, including closets and storage areas. Also, consider making a safe place outside where he can retreat whenever needed.
Contact Vet – If none of the above treatments seem to be working, contact your vet immediately. They may recommend additional therapies like anti-anxiety medications or even surgery.
Knowing what separation anxiety is, is definitely a critical step to take to mitigate and slow down the adverse effects. We have done the much we can to explain it and the steps you might look up to in order that you may slow down its impacts.
Having armed you with the relevant insights, is it too much of us to ask you to now implement them? Just to let you know, this issue may turn catastrophic if left unattended to or handled poorly. We hence ask you to take decisive steps in a timely manner to be able to tackle the issue well.