So, what is dog separation anxiety? Let’s talk about how to identify dog separation anxiety in your dog and owner behaviors that might intensify the problem. Separation anxiety is a normal reaction to being left alone in puppies but adult dogs should have become desensitized to being alone. These dogs become truly panicked when left alone.
Symptoms of dog separation anxiety include, but are not limited to:
- Chewing furniture
- Urinating and defecating in the house
- Other destructive behaviors; these can be mild or very severe.
These behaviors only occur when the owner is not at home. Canine separation anxiety is a common problem for many people and their dogs. This problem is treatable but takes time and a lot of patience. Canine separation anxiety is solved with baby steps, not leaps and strides.
To treat separation anxiety you must first get a diagnosis. Talk to a veterinarian to rule out a medical problem and then ask for a referral to a behaviorist. An animal behaviorist will be able to give step by step instructions on how to fix the problem and give further counsel as the steps are performed. Separation anxiety will not be fixed in one day or even one week. There is no magic cure.
Diagnosing Separation Anxiety
Diagnosing this problem is not as easy as one might think. Every dog that tears up the house when the owner is away is not suffering from separation anxiety. Video your dog while you are at work – dogs with separation anxiety will panic within 30 minutes of your leaving the house. These dogs are truly panicked. They are not being spiteful and they are not mad at their owners; they are panicking and need help.
Problems to rule out include:
- Boredom: A bored dog is a restless, sometimes “bad” dog. Dogs need interaction and exercise. Try walking your dog every morning before you leave.
- Confinement: Some dogs do not like confinement and will panic in a crate. These dogs will tear up a crate trying to find a way out, but do not necessarily have separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety (that are crated) will still have separation anxiety in a crate. Some will tear up the crate, drool or salivate. Crating a separation anxiety-prone dog does not solve the problem.
- Noise phobias: Some dogs have a fear of loud noises. These dogs might be fearful of thunderstorms, fireworks, vacuums, etc. and can tear up the house trying to escape the noise.
- Normal puppy behavior: Sometimes puppies will chew or become destructive when unsupervised. All puppies should be crated for their own protection.
In order to help a dog with separation anxiety, the owner should start taking notes on the dog’s behavior. What does the dog do while the owner is getting ready? What does the dog do when the owner comes home? Try to identify the behaviors (owners’ behaviors) that upset the dog – for example, does the dog salivate when the owner picks up their car keys? What is the dog doing while the owner is in the bathroom getting ready for work? Try to identify a threshold of how long the owner can be gone before the dog panics.