Behavioral issues are the top reason pets are relinquished to animal shelters. And fixing these issues through counterconditioning, desensitizing, and training requires a lot of time, effort, and communication between pet owner and veterinary team.
Separation anxiety is a common, and sometimes difficult, behavioral condition to treat. Some dogs have mild signs, such as not eating or drinking all day while the owner is away. Other cases can be much more severe, such as destroying metal crates and chewing through drywall. These issues can be caused by:
- An extreme attachment to the owner
- A change in the household or family members
- A change in schedule
- An anxiety-causing event that occurred while the dog was home alone
- A fear of storms, fireworks, gunshots, construction, or other noises
Signs of separation anxiety
How do you know if your pet is showing signs of separation anxiety? Even though they often occur when you’re not home, some symptoms of separation anxiety may actually appear before you even walk out the door, including:
- Following you from room to room
- Whining outside the shut bathroom door
- Inability to be alone outside
- Pacing, whining, or clinging while you are preparing to leave
- Exuberant welcoming behavior when you return home
If your dog waits until after you leave to show her signs of anxiety, a video camera may be useful to capture what’s going on after you head to work. Are you truly dealing with separation anxiety? Or, is your dog destructive because she’s bored? If she’s suffering from separation anxiety, your dog may display:
- Excessive barking, whining, or howling
- Inappropriate elimination
- Destructive behavior to the house
- Self-injury in attempts to escape
- Excessive salivation
Treatments for separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can be difficult to cure. If complete eradication of stress is unattainable, the goal should be to keep your pet’s anxiety at a tolerable level. Treating separation anxiety requires a multimodal approach, and the entire family needs to be on board. There are several different components to alleviating your pet’s fear while she is alone, including:
- Treat puzzles
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Calming supplements
- Obedience training
- Counterconditioning and desensitization to departure cues
- Boarding, doggie daycare, or a pet sitter
With a pet that has only mild separation anxiety, a peanut-butter filled Kong or long-lasting treat puzzle may be all she needs to keep her mind off the fact that you are gone. Also, be sure to make departures and arrivals as calm and boring as possible. If you make a big fuss over your loving pooch as soon as you walk through the door, that will only serve to escalate her heightened anxiety. Keep your comings and goings low-key.
For severe cases of separation anxiety, you should work with a complete veterinary team, including a certified trainer or animal behaviorist. We can refer you to a specialist who will work with us to provide a thorough treatment plan.
A trainer or behaviorist can suggest training necessary for your dog to learn independence and confidence. In addition, they can teach you how to use counterconditioning and desensitization to avoid stressful wind-up when your dog sees you preparing to leave (picking up purse/keys, putting on shoes, etc.). We can suggest calming supplements in conjunction with anxiolytic medications to help your dog learn new behaviors to reduce stress.
Other ideas to cope with separation anxiety include:
- If your dog enjoys playing with other dogs, take her to daycare instead of leaving her home alone.
- If your dog doesn’t appreciate playing with others, hire a pet sitter to stay with your dog while you’re away. There are several websites that specialize in pet sitters and provide strict background checks.
- Board and train facilities teach your pet appropriate behaviors, either through one-on-one training or with a small group of like-minded dogs.
If you think your dog is struggling with separation anxiety, call us at 615-383-1000 to discuss your options.