Separation anxiety may not sound like much to someone who’s never owned a dog. However, to those of us who have, it’s a dreaded word combination indeed! We know what it can mean to both dog and owner, and there’s a reason you want to get rid of it as soon as possible.
Also known as SA, it can present in several different ways and at just about any age. It may even be in the best interests of both you and your dog to consider some type of training or even boarding, if the problem persists.
If you have the time and patience to do so, however, there are some things you can do yourself that can help. Curbing your dog’s separation anxiety won’t happen overnight. But with patience, love, and attention you can turn the tables.
What Is Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can present in many ways. Dogs might tend to bark, howl, urinate all over the house, chew things up, dig incessantly and even try to escape. At first glance, it might seem like these are all indicators of a need for training, but that isn’t always the case.
If you see these problems frequently, and they are accompanied by other behaviors that point to stress, you could be dealing with SA. Those “other behaviors” could include drooling and becoming increasingly anxious when your dog sees you leaving.
Once the disorder is triggered, a dog can become increasingly upset the longer he is alone. In extreme cases, the dog can destroy certain areas of your home and even become self-injurious, especially around doors and windows.
Behaviors That Point Towards Separation Anxiety
Knowing that separation anxiety can be behind many of the behaviors our dogs exhibit in our absence is only half the battle. Some behaviors can tell you your dog is a prime candidate for SA.
If your dog is extremely close to you during your time at home, it might mean he will become anxious when you leave. You might even notice him getting restless if you close a door between the two of you.
Another behavior that can point to SA is your dog abandoning sleep to follow you around the house. He could be sound asleep, even dreaming, but if there’s the slightest noise that alerts him of your movement, he’s right on your heels. This says that he is incredibly attached to you and is much more likely to exhibit behaviors linked to this restlessness.
If your dog happens to be between one and three years old, and his schedule changes significantly, you can bet he’ll notice. The added stress will add to his feelings of being alone and he is likely to be unaware of exactly what’s happening. This can greatly magnify his fretfulness when you leave.
Helping to Reduce Separation Anxiety
First, talk with your vet about the fact that you suspect something. While these behaviors don’t always point to anything serious, it’s best to rule it out before attempting any type of behavior modification.
One way to curb severe behaviors associated with separation anxiety is to crate train your dog. Since wild dogs are naturally drawn to a “den” as a safe place to sleep, especially in the case of a mother dog and her pups, it’s only natural to work with this instinct when possible.
Crate training can take a while to teach. The amount of time will depend on your dog’s temperament, age and what he may have gone through in the past. Make sure you don’t move too fast and NEVER leave a dog in a crate too long. Puppies less than six months of age can take a maximum of four hours, while older dogs can go a bit longer. Always try to associate the crate with something pleasant.
Treats are another good choice for keeping your fur baby occupied, especially ones that aren’t quickly consumed. A rawhide chew, knucklebone or nylabone often works wonders and can keep him occupied for much of the time you’re gone. Do make sure, however, that the treats you provide are ones you’ve given him while you were home. You should know how your dog will react with the chew before you leave him alone with it to avoid any choking incidents.
Toys that dispense treats can keep your dog occupied for hours! The Kong Wobbler treat dispenser is a great choice. Not only does it come in both small and large sizes, but it wobbles around to keep your dog from being able to retrieve the treat too quickly. Odds are, with one of these, your dog will forget that you’re even gone until it’s nearly time for you to return!
Another thing that can help is using a toy or bone that has a hollow middle and filling it with peanut butter. Most dogs love the taste of peanut butter and will spend a great deal of time getting out every bit.
Your dog’s separation anxiety is just as hard on him as it is on you. It can be tough sometimes to figure out the best way to go about treating it, which can make it even harder on you.
In addition to the things we’ve already gone over, you might want to make sure your dog is getting plenty of exercise each day. While exercise is excellent for your dog’s health, as well as your own, it can also stimulate the mind and leave him more relaxed during times when you are not home.
Most of all, don’t despair! All dogs are different and what works for one dog might not work for yours. Just keep trying.
He’s worth it!