Separation Anxiety and Your Dog

It’s summertime, and that means it’s time for a vacation. But what do you do when your dog has separation anxiety?

According to the experts at Pet MD, “Separation anxiety in dogs usually results in destructive behavior when an owner leaves the pet. Behaviors that may be seen include vocalization, destroying objects, digging or even depression. However, these behaviors may also be due to other conditions or environmental cues. Therefore, it is important for the behaviorist or veterinarian to obtain the history of the dog before attributing separation anxiety as the primary or sole cause of the behavior.”

Signs & Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety causes some pets to be extremely destructive while their owners are away. Typically separation anxiety occurs during the first hour of the owner leaving. They may also vocalize, attempt to follow the owner, defecate or urinate in the house. Some dogs will stop eating, act depressed, hide, whine or pant. These dogs will usually behave in an excessively excited manner when the owner returns home.

Diagnosis of Separation Anxiety

Other behavioral conditions may mimic separation anxiety so it is important to analyze the symptoms and history of the dog. There may be underlying medical issues, so seeing a veterinarian is an important step. Also, young animals may have other reasons for similar behaviors. For example, teething kittens may need appropriate things to chew on or not be fully housetrained and may not truly be experiencing separation anxiety.

Treatment for Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is based on fear. It is important to ensure the dog that they are safe when the owner is not present and that the owner will return. Behavioral and environmental modification is important. By gradually eliminating the dog’s fear and fostering a sense of safety for the pet, many behaviors can change. The first step is to assess the current environment and behaviors:

  • What does the dog do as the owner gets ready to leave?
  • What does the owner do as he/she gets ready to leave?
  • What does the dog destroy?
  • Where is the dog? Are there other pets?
  • What toys does the dog have available?

Environmental changes like rotating different toys, adding more interactive toys and gradually getting the dog used to a crate or other type of environment can help. Behavioral changes start with the cues from the owner. A change or elimination of the routine when an owner leaves or returns home may help. It is important for the pet to stay calm before an owner leaves and when the owner comes home.

Behaviors take time and consistency to change, so consulting with a behaviorist or experienced trainer can make a significant difference in the success of the training. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs (anxiolytics) can be given to dogs with separation anxiety, but should not be relied on as the sole treatment for separation anxiety.

Being consistent when trying to change separation anxiety behaviors is critical. If behavioral symptoms do improve, an owner may be able to taper the amount of medication given and potentially discontinue using medications after a period of time. Other options that might work if behavioral and environmental modification do not help include doggy day care or a pet sitter.

Please stop in today and visit with us about your dog’s anxiety issues. We have many calming solutions available!