How to help dogs with separation anxiety
If you are certain that your dog has real separation anxiety, and it is not an issue of bad behaviour or confidence, you are in the right place.
In this article we are going to talk about dogs who experience serious stress and panic when their owner leaves the house.
Are you unsure whether your dog has separation anxiety? Read about different types of separation anxiety and complete a simple quiz.
Wondering what dog separation anxiety actually is? Learn about the symptoms and diagnosis of separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a serious condition, and it should not be ignored. Sometimes owners are unprepared to deal with this condition, and make some serious mistakes that lead to very bad consequences.
What could happen if you ignore separation anxiety?
Your belongings and furniture may be seriously damaged or destroyed. Owners of dogs with separation anxiety have reported their dogs chewing and scratching through doors, and breaking window glass, and even metal crates and barriers.
Your dog may escape. A dog in a state of panic will not approach other people and may get injured by a car.
Your dog may seriously injure themselves. Dogs with serious cases of separation anxiety may turn to scratching, chewing or licking themselves. This may result in loss of hair, damaged skin, or even a serious injury.
Your neighbours will complain about the noise and barking.
What not to do if your dog has separation anxiety:
Punish your dog for exhibiting the symptoms, such as barking and howling.
Punish your dog for messing in the house while you were gone.
Lock your dog up so "the neighbours will not hear" or so that "nothing else gets to be destroyed".
Believe that your dog will just get used to being on their own.
Now that I've scared you a little, let's discuss what you should do if you have recognized that your dog has separation anxiety.
Start by making sure you know exactly what happens when you leave the house. Don't rely on reports from your neighbours.
Set up video and audio recorders, so you can see what's going on in the house while you are gone.
You may find that your dog barks and howls the entire time when you are not at home. It may continue for hours at a time. Some dogs will bark until they lose their voice, or until their owner comes back.
Make sure your dog is barking because of anxiety and stress, and not because of reacting to their environment, such as barking at outside noise.
You may also find in your recording that your dog starts chewing, scratching, digging or otherwise trying to destroy anything that they believe is preventing them from reuniting with you, such as doors, door knobs, window glass, window frames, or their crate, if they are confined.
Your dog may also destroy objects that have your smell, such as shoes, pillows, sofas, closets, socks, etc.
Another frequent behaviour is running from the door to the window and back, circling around, or simply going back and forth – something your dog does not do when you are at home, and that is caused by stress.
Read more about the symptoms and diagnosis of separation anxiety.
Next, record what happens when you and your family members prepare to leave the house. It is a good idea to videotape this as well.
Why? You will be able to understand what it is that you do that triggers you dog's reaction. You will also find out how long it takes for your dog to start panicking.
Record your dog every day, until you build a consistent picture and a full understanding of what's going on.
Based on your observations, you should be able to determine how severe your dog's separation anxiety is. Generally, it has three levels.
Mild separation anxiety
Usually, mild separation anxiety is either learned or is a result of overall lack of confidence on the part of the dog.
In most cases, it can be dealt with without the help of a dog behaviourist or veterinarian, by making changes in routine, or training the dog and building confidence.
Moderate separation anxiety
Typically dogs with this level of separation anxiety experience stress, and take a long time to calm themselves down. They are able to eat and sleep while their owner is gone, but show signs of stress.
Most cases of moderate separation anxiety can be resolved with help and advice from a trained professional or an experienced dog owner who has dealt with separation anxiety cases in the past.
Severe separation anxiety
There is a wide range of severe separation anxiety behaviour, but all could be described in terms of dogs undergoing serious suffering when their owner is absent.
Dogs with this level of anxiety will not eat or sleep when their owner is gone, and typically require serious behaviour modification training, involving the help of a dog behaviourist.
You will benefit from hiring a professional trained and experienced in dealing with separation anxiety, even if you have read a lot about this problem. Understanding and knowledge is good, but practical experience is always better.
A dog behaviourist will help you to do what's right for your dog, and will make sure you are spending enough time and effort addressing the issue.
A trained professional is also able to recognize when the treatment is working, and when it isn't, and ensure there is consistency.
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