Dog Separation Anxiety

We love our dogs. We want them to be happy and healthy and well behaved. But sometimes something goes wrong. That dog of your dreams has become the dog of your  nightmares. Your dog is behaving very badly and you’re at your wits end.

Do you really have a bad dog or is it Dog Separation Anxiety?

How would you feel if you found out your dog is doing bad things because he's feeling uncontrollable fear and extreme anxiety to the point of panic when left alone?

Wouldn't that change your perspective? If you could, wouldn’t you want to help?

Dog separation anxiety is a serious condition in which a dog becomes extremely distressed when left alone. This anxiety can intensify quickly into full blown panic. This can result in dangerous and often self-destructive behavior. Please understand that your dog can't help it.

It’s estimated that anywhere from 15 to 35% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety to varying degrees. Unfortunately many dog owners are not aware of the signs of this disorder and instead end up labeling their dog as a “bad dog”. Many get rid of the dog because of the outrageous behavior.

This destructive behavior is one of the top reasons dogs are given up to the pound or abandoned.

If he becomes so "crazy" when you leave him, can you imagine the level of distress if you stick him in a shelter? There's no chance someone else is going to adopt him. He's pretty much doomed.

What if you knew that your dog was suffering from a disorder and help was available?

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of dog separation anxiety; so what are they?

Symptoms you can see when you are home:

        Behavior you see as you are preparing to leave;

  • Excessive Licking
  • Salivation
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Agitation

        Other signs of Separation anxiety;

  • Appetite Loss
  • Withdrawal
  • Clinginess
  • Following you everywhere

What occurs when you are out:

  • Chewing and digging
  • Destruction of property
  • Evidence of escape attempts (damage by doors or windows)
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Self destructive behavior (causing injury to himself)
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation
  • Barking, howling and whining

Some things that could cause separation anxiety in a once well behaved dog are a change in your schedule, a change in living quarters, joining a new family or guardian or the loss of an important family member through death or moving away.

It's extremely important to realize that your dog does not do these things out of spite or because it's a "bad dog." What occurs is a result of the overwhelming, uncontrollable panic that they feel when left alone. It's a great idea to set up a video camera when you leave to see exactly what happens in your absence.

It's also important to get your vet involved to rule out any medical problems or side effects from medication that may cause any of these symptoms.

Some of the symptoms listed can be attributed to the age of the dog. For instance young dogs are often destructive but they are in most cases destructive whether you are there or they are alone. This behavior usually subsides when they are close to a year old or before.

Another cause of some of these symptoms is shear boredom. A dog who is left alone for long periods of time may just be looking for an outlet for stored up energy. This often results in destructive behavior and is not separation anxiety.

But a dog with separation anxiety will bring this behavior to a whole new level. He will usually show visible signs of impending panic before you leave the house.

What can you do?

If you're dealing with a mild case you can recondition your dog so that when you leave he gets a special treat such as a Kong filled with something he loves such as peanut butter. I suggest freezing it so it takes 30 minutes or so for your buddy to get all of it out. Try keeping your absence to a minimum and increase the time slowly according to your dog's progress. When you return remove the Kong and give it only when you go out. This will help your dog change his fear of you leaving to anticipation of his favorite treat.

Again, if you can, set up a video camera where it can't be disturbed so you can actually see how your dog is progressing.

Sometimes adding a buddy, another dog, can help but there is no guarantee. This doesn't always work especially if the level of anxiety is extremely high. If that's the case I suggest discussing a strategy with your vet or better yet enlisting the services of a certified animal behaviorist or look for a veterinary behaviorist who is board certified.

If you decide to go it alone, moderate or severe cases also require reconditioning but it's much more complex and will take several weeks to do successfully. Treatment has to progress or even change based on how your dog is reacting. The idea is to identify what triggers the anxiety and change or remove those triggers.

The first step is to desensitize your dog to the process of you leaving. Dogs are masters of observation and they watch and learn your routines. He knows way before you actually leave that you are heading out and that is when his stress begins.

Whatever your routine involves; like putting on your shoes, putting on a jacket and grabbing your keys,  you'll see the signs beginning way in advance of your departure. You need to go through that routine and randomly not actually leave. Do the things you normally do to get ready to leave, grab your keys and sit down and watch TV or something else in the house.

Make your actual departures and your return uneventful. In other words don't make a big deal about saying goodbye. Just leave. When you return just pat him on the head and go about your business. Ignore his frantic, over excited greetings. Later when he is calm you can give affection.

That's just the first step. There many levels of severity and way too many strategies available based on your dogs' degree of anxiety to go over in a short article. I suggest you research "dog separation anxiety" and find the strategies that best suit your situation. There are several good books available that deal with the subject.

The important thing to know is that in most cases this disorder can be dealt with and you can help your best friend overcome it. As you would act with any member of your family that was in crisis, don't give up on your dog.

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