Separation anxiety in dogs is a real thing and pet parents dealing with this issue will tell you that helping your pet deal will being alone is emotional (for both parent and pet) and requires patience.
Dogs with separation anxiety display a range of behaviours, including barking, howling, scratching at the door, urinating in the home, chewing furniture or ripping things apart. Some dogs may also pant heavily and look physically distraught. And when mom and dad return? The pup acts as if leaving them alone was the worst thing ever!
The most important thing to realise is that this behaviour, when tied to separation, is not naughty behaviour but a sign that your pup is distressed by your leaving.
What can pet parents do to deal with separation anxiety?
The first step is to recognise that your pet is experiencing separation anxiety when you leave the home. Then, start small.
- Rule out behaviours that could be triggered from other causes, such as urinating from excitement, barking or scratching the door to get out the house and to another dog, or the dog thinking they are going for a walk and acting very excited about it (jumping, barking etc.)
- Do not make leaving the home an event (saying goodbye and so on).
- If your dog picks up on cues, such as you putting on makeup or getting your keys to leave, train your dog to not see these cues as a sign of you leaving. Put makeup on to watch tv and get your keys often without actually leaving the house. This will take a lot of time and patience, but it can work to improve any pre-leaving signs of stress.
- Start by leaving the dog alone for only a few minutes and returning without giving attention to the behaviour (for example, don’t clean urine or buff-out door scratches with vigour!) Gradually leave for longer periods.
- Ask family or a friend to stay at the house when you leave at first. Build up to the dog being totally alone.
- Ask a qualified dog trainer for advice. Your dog may be responding negatively to being alone due to a past event or something that you may not be picking up on (such as failure to recognise a fear response).
What if I must leave home suddenly?
For severe separation anxiety, your vet may prescribe a mild medication that could help your dog cope, especially if separation will be sudden and out of your control.
It is also important to find a routine and stick to it. Avoid taking advise from non-professionals and doing things that could make the behaviour (and your dog’s anxiety) worse.
Your pup can overcome separation anxiety. However, if the anxiety is severe, you may need to adjust your lifestyle here and there with the help of a qualified trainer to help you and your dog manage the behaviour.
For more information on separation anxiety, visit this excellent article from the ASPCA.