Separation anxiety is more serious than a dog merely whimpering occasionally or discovering a slipper under your kitchen table when you do come home. It’s more than a small amount of mischief. In fact, it’s a case of your beloved pet feeling highly stressed. If, when you’re out, your dog exhibits any of these types of behavior, it’s highly likely that he has separation anxiety:
• Excessive howling or barking.
• Intense pacing up and down.
• Destructive acts such as frantically scratching at doors and windows or chewing clothing, pillows, shoes or furniture.
• An excessive amount of panting, salivating or drooling.
• Inside toilet accidents when he normally would never do such a thing.
• If left in a crate, he tries to get out so desperately that he may even hurt himself.
This type of behaviour doesn’t happen once or twice. It occurs every single time you leave the house. It may be such a strong level of anxiety that your action of picking up your car keys or putting on your coat could trigger his anxiety and the repercussions of that anxiety.
What Causes Dogs To Have Separation Anxiety?
There’s no documented reason why some dogs suffer from this problem more than others. Stories exist that say it’s more prevalent in dogs who have been abandoned, who live (or have lived) in shelters, or who may have lost somebody important in their life. Certain breeds may be more susceptible to this type of anxiety, especially dogs who are very people-oriented. Changes in their life can cause separation anxiety. This may be moving to a different home, a death in the household, a divorce, the sudden absence of someone normally living in the home or even if a child goes off to college.
How Can I Help My Dog?
You don’t want this anxiety to continue and your dog certainly doesn’t, either. It’s extremely difficult to see your pet suffering from such a high degree of stress and it’s equally as hard to arrive home and find the home in a shambles. There’s no magical solution to this but there are some steps you can try.
Conditioning: You can teach your dog that separation has its own rewards. When you leave home, your pet immediately becomes stressed. Try to counteract that by giving him a very special treat. This could be a toy full of peanut butter or another type of food he loves. Maybe a bone is the answer. Perhaps leave small treats around the home for him to find. Ensure all his toys, blanket, bed, water and anything else he needs are all close by.
If your pet is a puppy, it’s vital to begin this conditioning process early and only leave for a small time period. Slowly you can lengthen the amount of time you’re absent. Some pets feel more comfortable and safe in their crate if they’re alone. Keep an eye on his behaviour to see if that helps him or makes the problem worse.
Exercise: Your dog needs lots of exercise, both mentally and physically. Once he has had a walk and a play, he’s much more likely to settle down quietly when you have to go out.
Medication: Separation anxiety may be too much for some dogs, especially older dogs who are set in their ways. Vets may recommend the use of certain medications such as amitriptyline, a common drug for depression, or alprazolam, a drug for panic and anxiety disorders.
Herbal and homeopathic treatments: You may decide to use alternative remedies to calm your dog. Natural supplements can ease anxiety in your dog. The ideal ones are: valerian, St. John’s Wort, passionflower, chamomile and an amino acid called L-theanine. These remedies affect the neurotransmitters in the dog’s brain (dopamine, GABA or serotonin) and create a sense of calm and peace.
If your dog has a severe case of separation anxiety, you may need a combination of behavioural therapy and medication. Because it can be complicated, it’s wise to work together with a vet behaviourist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist.
Despite your best efforts, it may not always be possible to stop separation anxiety from happening. However, with some TLC, you may be able to reduce the destructive behaviour and ease the suffering your dog endures whenever you leave home.
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