10 Jun How To Help Your Dog Cope With Separation Anxiety
IS YOUR DOG SUFFERING FROM SEPARATION ANXIETY? FIND OUT HOW TO HELP THEM COPE
If your dog whines whenever you leave the house, engages in destructive behaviors while you’re out, or displays excessive excitement at your return, your pup may have a case of separation anxiety.
Destructive behaviors could be anything from chewing newspapers and ripping up the couch, urination or defecation indoors, excessive digging, or barking, howling and whining.
Although the effects of these behaviors can be highly distressing for us, don’t forget about the distress your dog is likely undergoing.
But don’t despair, there are things you can do to help your dog cope with your absences so that you can both have peace of mind.
HOW DO I KNOW IF IT IS SEPARATION ANXIETY?
Destructive behaviors could be a case of a lack of proper training, and urinating indoors can signify a medical problem. However, if your dog only engages in these behaviors when you are out, it’s likely to be separation anxiety.
In addition, acting distressed at the time of your departure or excessively excited when you return also indicates an anxiety issue. However, if you’re unsure, enlist the help of a veterinarian or behavioral expert.
WHAT CAUSES MY DOG’S SEPARATION ANXIETY?
It’s not well known why some dogs develop separation anxiety and others don’t. However, according to the ASPCA, dogs adopted from shelters tend to exhibit behaviors associated with separation anxiety far more than those who have been in the same family since puppyhood.
Sometimes, this is because the dog has been abandoned or taken away from its mother early in life. However, it may simply be because of a change in ownership and residence for the dog. Dogs form strong attachments with the people in their lives, so someone in the home moving out or passing away can also be a trigger.
A common cause of separation anxiety is a sudden change in schedule, such as when you start a new job or anything that requires you to be out of the house for much longer hours than you were previously.
It’s also important to think about the fact that dogs are pack animals. This means that they prefer to have companions, rather than living a solitary life. In the domesticated setting, your dog sees you as the leader of the pack. Having the leader away for long periods of time can make your dog feel less safe.
WHAT CAN I DO FOR MILD SEPARATION ANXIETY?
If your dog’s separation anxiety isn’t too intense, some simple counterconditioning can do the trick. Counterconditioning involves changing your dog’s associations into positive ones. Right now, your dog may associate your leaving with fear, stress, and anxiety. However, if you can make your pup associate it with positive things, you might shake the problem.
A good way to do this is to give your dog a delicious chew or a puzzle toy stuffed with food right before you leave the house. This way, not only will your dog associate your departure with delicious treats, but for 20-30 minutes after you leave, they’ll be happily occupied. This will give them time to calm down, so they are less likely to get distressed.
According to the Humane Society of the US, other techniques to treat mild separation anxiety include:
- Make your comings and goings low-key. Don’t make it obvious that you’re about to leave and don’t greet your pup as soon as you get home.
- Leave out some of your recently worn clothes so that the house still smells like you.
- Establish a predictable routine for your dog.
WHAT CAN I DO FOR SEVERE SEPARATION ANXIETY?
If these simple techniques don’t work and your dog is constantly anxious and engaging in destructive behaviors while you are away, the problem may be more severe. Dealing with it involves a more concerted counterconditioning program. This is quite complex, so if possible, enlist the help of a professional dog behaviorist.
- Departure Cues
Picking up your keys or putting on your shoes are signals to your dog that you are about to leave the house, and these can cause predeparture anxiety. You can break this cycle of association by teaching your dog that these actions don’t always mean that you are leaving.
Expose your dogs to these cues several times a day. Pick up your keys or put on your coat without leaving the house. However, this is likely to take several weeks of exposure to these cues many times a day to break the association.
- Gradual Exposure Therapy
If your dog gets stressed, even when you’re in a different room for a few minutes, treating this will involve a lengthy process of getting your dog used to longer and longer periods in separate rooms and finally with you out of the house. It involves a great deal of effort, as well as treats!
If you think your dog has very severe separation anxiety, it’s best to contact a behavioral specialist for help.
Prevention is always better than cure! If you’re going to have to be out of the house for longer hours in the near future, prevent separation anxiety by gradually getting your dog used to your absences. Start with shorter separations and gradually increase the duration. This way, it won’t be a sudden shock for your pup when you have to go to work for 8 hours a day.
According to the veterinarians at VCA, dogs are more likely to develop separation anxiety if their needs for exercise, play, and mental stimulation are not met. It’s okay to leave your dog at home alone sometimes, but you need to make sure you give them enough exercise and attention while you are at home.
Take them for daily walks, get them some good toys, and spend quality time with them. Puzzle toys or even puzzle food bowls can keep them mentally stimulated while you’re out too.
You may also want to consider calming treats or CBD oil that’s specially formulated for dogs. CBD is an alternative to pharmaceutical treatments, and it can help your pet in a number of ways, including reducing its anxiety levels. If you opt for this treatment, be sure to chat with your vet about dosage and directions for use beforehand.
Having a dog is a commitment that involves time and dedication. Separation anxiety may be something you have to deal with as a dog owner, but by addressing it properly you and your pup will be happier and healthier.
credit: Amelia Palmer – www.mdrncbd.com