Separation anxiety is a relatively common condition and it’s one that an estimated 20-40% of dogs receive treatment for by a veterinary behavioral specialist. Since the 1980’s it’s been believed separation anxiety was the result of over-attachment to an owner or care giver. But more recent articles suggest it’s more akin to separation phobia, and that dogs are in complete panic when left alone. So if you’re thinking of bringing a new dog into the family, it’s vital you consider the amount of time they could be left entirely on their own.
When treating separation anxiety, owners are advised that certain training techniques can help change their dogs behavior and encourage independence. But what if your dog is effectively experiencing a panic attack when you’re gone? Some specialists now believe anti-anxiety medication can play a role in treatment, especially when used in conjunction with behavioral modification techniques.
What To Look Out For
Firstly, you’ll need to recognize the symptoms of separation anxiety. You’ll notice your dog’s behavior change as soon as they realize you are about to leave the house. They might pace up and down, follow you around and scratch at the door as you leave. Once alone, they will often begin howling and barking and can become destructive. The fear, panic and emotional distress may mean that they don’t want to eat or drink, may urinate in the home or even try to escape.
Techniques That Can Help
Behavior modification takes time and patience, but you can begin by desensitizing your dog to any leaving routines. Pick up your keys and instead of leaving, give your dog an extra special treat. Training your dog to stay in another room when you’re still at home will encourage independence. You can then move onto leaving them alone in the house for very short periods, gradually building up to 30 minutes, providing they aren’t showing any signs of distress.
When you do leave them, put them in a safe place where they don’t feel isolated. Access to a window, their favorite toy or an item of your clothing can help reduce stress. Anti-anxiety medication from the vet can help by keeping your dog in a calm and relaxed state, preventing an experience of high anxiety.
If you try these techniques and your dog is still displaying symptoms, you may want to talk to a qualified behavioral specialist for additional help and advice.