By Lorie Huston
Separation anxiety is a troubling behavioral problem that can damage the bond between pet and pet owner, cause difficulties with neighbors and landlords, and place stress on both the dog and his owner. This disorder results in signs of anxiety that usually occur when the owner leaves the home, although symptoms can also occur when access to the owner is denied even when he or she is home.
Dealing with a dog with extreme separation anxiety may require seeking help from a veterinary behaviorist or a trainer with experience dealing with this disorder. In some cases, behavior modification drugs may be required.
What Are the Signs of Separation Anxiety?
Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety may bark, whine, or howl when left alone. These dogs may become destructive — chewing on or digging at walls, doors, furniture, and other inanimate objects. They may urinate or defecate in the home. They also might go to extreme measures to escape, sometimes putting themselves at risk for injury.
Dogs with separation anxiety are typically extremely attached to their owners and may begin to show signs of agitation in response to pre-departure cues from the owner. These cues may include things such as picking up car keys, putting on a coat, or handling a purse or briefcase. The dog also often will greet her owner in an exaggerated manner on return.
What Is the Best Way to Deal With Separation Anxiety?
Confinement might be necessary to restrict the damage done by an anxious dog. However, confinement may not be well tolerated by many pets. If possible, the dog should be given the chance to get used to being confined. Placing treats and toys in the confinement area may be useful for acclimation. Introduction to the confinement area should be slow and gradual. A crate or carrier is acceptable, as are play pens or other devices that contain the dog.
Other options include placing the dog in day care or having a family member or friend look after the pet while the owner is away.
When the dog does need to be left alone, owners should leave with as little drama as possible. Avoid long goodbyes. Provide the dog with a treat or toy as a distraction a few moments before leaving. Toys stuffed with food or food puzzles are helpful for this purpose. When leaving, simply leave without any spoken goodbye or further interaction. On returning, the greeting should be kept low-key as well.
Owners should reward their dogs for calm, relaxed behavior. Encourage the dog to settle on a dog bed or blanket and provide a food treat or toy only when the dog is quiet. Anxious or exuberant behavior should not be rewarded when it occurs on an owner’s departure or return to the home.