Dealing with Dog Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can cause a lot of stress for both the dog and his owner(s). Dogs suffering from this behavioral problem are going through agony when their owner is away, while extreme cases may even result in self-injury. Needless to say, the sight of destroyed household items and/or injured pet is something no dog owner wants to experience when returning home after a hard day at work. Fortunately, dog separation anxiety can be successfully resolved although it takes quite a lot of time and patience to help the dog overcome this behavioral issue.
Causes of Dog Separation Anxiety and Its Symptoms
Dog separation anxiety is caused by distress due to the owner’s absence from home and sometimes even from the room. This distress can be displayed in the form of barking, howling, drooling, whining, chewing of various objects, scratching at doors and floors, urinating and/or defecating, and attempting to escape. Dogs that have separation anxiety may display one or more of the mentioned symptoms which can range from mild to severe.
Separation Anxiety Mustn’t be Confused with Misbehavior
Chewing shoes, excessive barking and other forms of behavioral problems don’t necessarily indicate that the dog has separation anxiety. On the contrary, they most often indicate that the dog is bored, not getting enough exercise or is simply ill-mannered. In most cases, unwanted behavior can be relatively easily corrected with obedience training and discipline.
If your dog gets upset when you prepare to leave or even attempts to prevent you from leaving, there is a great chance that he has separation anxiety rather than ‘simply’ misbehaving. In this case, obedience training and discipline will have no effect. This is because separation anxiety is caused by distress due to the separation from the owner and not by poor manners, or lack of training or discipline.
Counter Conditioning and Desensitization
Mild cases of dog separation anxiety are treated using the so-called counter conditioning which is based on turning an unpleasant experience into a pleasant one. This is achieved by offering the dog his favorite food, a new toy or whatever he enjoys before leaving him alone in order for him to start associating separation from the owner with something pleasant. Over time, the dog’s distress reduces and eventually, he learns to be home alone without turning the house upside down.
Counter conditioning may not be enough to deal with moderate and severe forms of dog separation anxiety. To treat moderate and severe cases, counter conditioning is combined with the desensitization training. The latter helps the dog get used to being alone and gradually increase the duration of separation from the owner. This approach has been shown to be very effective but it can take months to show results and requires supervision of a qualified professional.
Anti-Anxiety Drugs Not a Long Term Solution
If your dog has a severe form of separation anxiety, your veterinarian may also prescribe anti-anxiety drugs. But keep in mind that while helping your dog to remain calm, anti-anxiety drugs are not a long term solution. They should be used only for a short period in conjunction with the above described treatments.