It’s easy to mistake your dog’s separation anxiety for simple misbehavior.
If your dog has separation anxiety, their distress signals are likely to be destructive and disruptive habits like howling, chewing, and digging when you leave him alone. The best way to avoid these problems is to identify the signs of separation anxiety and to look for ways to help ease your best friend’s fears.
Causes of Separation Anxiety
While any dog can develop separation anxiety, dogs that have been adopted from shelters (especially puppies), are more likely to have dealt with traumatic situations than those that have lived with the same family since their puppy days.
Changes of guardian or family, schedule, or residence are common triggers for the disorder, as well as a history of abandonment.
At the same time, however, there are cases where dogs develop symptoms of separation anxiety seemingly out of the blue. A dog that has lived its whole life with one family could suddenly exhibit a fear of being left alone. Some dogs are naturally more nervous than others, and their anxious personalities can lead to serious separation anxiety.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
A dog with separation anxiety is not the same as a dog that gets bored when left at home. Some dogs, especially puppies, tend to get into trouble when they’re unsupervised, but it’s not because they panic about being left alone. Those types of behaviors can be addressed with basic training, appropriate exercise, and mental stimulation.
Separation anxiety, however, isn’t as simple. Here’s a list of common behaviors often associated with an intense fear of being left alone:
- Persistent howling and barking
- Constant pacing
- Desperate attempts to escape
- Extreme chewing and destruction
- Self inflicting injuries
Dogs struggling with this type of anxiety will only exhibit these behaviors when their guardians are not around, and they will likely stop as soon as you return. A video camera can capture what’s going on when you’re not home.
It’s common for anxious dogs to panic when they are left alone.
If your pup leaves evidence of chewing and digging at door frames or window sills when you are not home, it could be a symptom of separation anxiety. It could also signal that your pet was trying to escape from a confined area when you were gone, which could lead to self-injuries like broken teeth and scraped paws.
How can you help your dog with separation anxiety?
Once you’ve recognized that your dog is struggling with separation anxiety, it’s important to teach your dog that being alone doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
You should start by leaving your dog alone only for short amounts of time. You want to work up their tolerance, and going too fast too soon could make the situation worse. Your first step could be leaving your dog in a room by themselves while you’re on the other side of the door. Start with ten minutes, and work your way up.
While you continue to extend the time, try leaving your dog with a long-lasting treat or favorite toy. That way, your pup will start to associate being home alone with activities he loves.
Never scold your dog for symptoms of separation anxiety.
Your pup is likely dealing with a significant amount of stress when you’re gone. Punishment could potentially make the problem worse. Be supportive and patient, and make sure to give your dog time to heal.
You want your dog to feel completely safe when they’re home alone. Punishing them for what they did while they were panicking won’t help.
Helping a dog cope with separation anxiety will be a long and tedious process. If your dog has an extreme case, they may never be 100% comfortable on their own. Your best chance of success is to work with an experienced dog trainer or behaviorist. It will require a lot of dedication on your part, but your pup will be worth it.