For many dog owners, leaving the house can be the start of real problems. A dog might all of a sudden begin to whine, bark, run around the house or even become destructive when its owner leaves it alone. This is all the result of something called separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can be a real problem in some dogs, leading to damage at home, loss of money and emotional problems for both the dog and its owners as they try to cope.
If your dog exhibits symptoms like these whenever you leave it alone, then you need to learn a little bit more about this condition and what you can do to overcome it.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
Depending on your dog and its temperament, separation anxiety can be displayed in different ways. These ways include:
- Barking, Howling and Whining
One of the most frequent ways a dog will act out is to make a variety of noises. These can be barks, howls or whines. These noises often begin the moment you leave the house and will continue for hours and hours. Depending on where you live, this can be a nuisance for your neighbors who have to put up with it.
Another sign of separation anxiety is excretion — urinating or defecating whenever you leave the house. Obviously, this can lead to all sorts of problems as well as being incredibly inconvenient when it comes to cleaning up.
Some dogs express their anxiety by destroying whatever they come into contact with. Chewing, digging, scratching and clawing on the floors, door frames and furniture can be expensive to fix. These are signs that your dog is really suffering when you leave. Obviously, this is not healthy for the dog, but it’s also not healthy for your relationship with your dog.
For some owners, coming home to an empty house is a sure sign of separation anxiety. Not only is this frustrating, it can also be very unsafe for the dog as it runs around the neighborhood and into the streets.
How to Treat Separation Anxiety
Thankfully, there are things you can do to help get your dog to overcome its anxiety problems.
For Mild to Moderate Anxiety
If your dog only suffers from a mild case of separation anxiety, it can often be treated by simple behavior modification techniques. These include:
- Giving your dog a treat every time you leave. This can help your dog associate your leaving with a happy occasion, and can also help it fear your leaving less.
- Exercise your dog before you leave. This can help your dog expend some energy and help them to be more relaxed when you depart.
- Stop treating your comings and goings like a big deal. Many owners spend a lot of time saying goodbye and hello to their dogs, turning it into a huge event. This event can be a cause of stress. Instead, act like coming and going is no big deal.
- Leave items of clothing out that smell like you, giving your dog the feeling that you are still in the house and nearby.
- Consider using mild, natural calming supplements. Natural remedies can help your dog handle the stress without having any adverse side effects.
For Severe Anxiety
If your dog is dealing with a severe case of separation anxiety, a more involved and long-term solution needs to be put in place. While there are medications that can help, these should be considered a last resort. Instead, most dog experts recommend a step-by-step process that helps your dog get used to the idea of your leaving.
This process works by first getting your dog used to the idea of your leaving. Pick up your keys, grab your wallet, etc. — but don’t leave the house. Hold them for a while, and then put them back. Doing this frequently will give your dog the chance to get used to the visual cues that it associates with your leaving, which will help keep the stress down.
Once you get your dog used to the pre-leaving cues, the next phase is to leave for very short trips out. Just a minute or two at first, but then gradually begin to expand the time you’re gone. Five minutes, ten minutes — just enough for your dog to start feeling anxious, but not enough to bring on a full-blown episode. As you increase the time, your dog will slowly become accustomed to the idea of you being gone.
Keep in mind, this is a long-term process that will take a while. But, in the end, it’s worth it for the peace of mind it brings your dog and your entire household.
If your pet has separation anxiety and these steps don’t help, please let us know. We can provide guidance for you as well as connect you with additional local resources and recommended trainers in our area.