Separation Anxiety - What Does It Mean?
Separation anxiety in dogs is a very common problems that most pet owners come up with. Common dog mischief such as needless barking, howling, chewing up things, or even littering inside the house are corrective dog behavior. However, if these habits are accompanied by some other symptoms of anxiety and stress (like excessive drooling or hyperactivity when a the owners leave the house), it is probably a problem of separation anxiety (SA) in your pet. Dogs fear being left alone and sad because their loved ones may be going away. Dogs with this anxiousness may try escaping from the home but end up getting hurt or causing some serious damage.
While some dogs look apparently depressed, some dogs do everything they can to stop their parents leave the house. Generally, dogs show maximum symptoms of their anxiety in the few minutes as soon as they are left alone. This behavioral problem can be treated with proper training, positive reinforcement, and maybe medication in some cases.
Other Behavioral Problems
Before deducing that your dog has SA, you must understand some differences between SA and other behavioral problems. All the symptoms of separation anxiety also hint towards certain medical conditions or just some behavioral problems.
What are the Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Inappropriate excretion in home
One of the most common signs of SA is dogs pooping and peeing inside home. If they have this habit even when their owners are around, then probably it is not a definite sign of separation anxiety.
Dogs who show SA may bark excessively when they are left alone. If this habit is triggered by other reasons too, then probably it is not a sure shot sign of SA.
Chewing and Destruction
Dogs with SA are often found indulging in destructive activities in home such as chewing up things, digging at doorways, or creating a massive mess. Unfortunately, it results in their injuries to teeth, paws, and nails.
Dogs with separation anxiety may hurriedly walk along in a set pattern. This sign does not show up when their owners are present. This behavior can be related to a feeling of sudden panic in dogs.
Coprophagia is a dog's habit of eating its own poop. A dog who has SA will probably not indulge in such an act when he is feeling safe and loved with his owners at their home. However, when left alone, such a dog may eat a little or all of its poop.
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
More than the medical condition, it is the history of a dog that gives a better idea of why a particular dog shows more symptoms of SA. It means that a dog who has been adopted from one owner by another may show such symptoms. Similarly, dogs who are abandoned are more likely to show SA. Also, drastic changes in a dog's routine, a residence change, and a death in the family are solid reasons behind a dog's separation anxiety.
How to Solve Mild Separation Anxiety Problems?
If your dog shows mild signs of separation anxiety whenever you leave him alone in the home, you can gradually train them to find this alone time as a reward time. The key behind this conditioning is to help them associate this time with certain things or feelings that they love, while eliminating those that he does not. You may consider the following method to encourage a desired behavior whenever you go out.
In mild cases of SA, offer your dog a puzzle toy (with their favorite treat stuffed inside it) as you leave them alone. Come back and take the toy back. Remember, do not show any excitement on coming back. If the problem of SA is about moderate level, you can begin leaving them alone for short duration and giving them the toy as you leave. Take the toy back when you return and keep the home-coming low-key. Gradually, increase the duration of leaving them alone.
As another method to help your dog relax when you are not at home, you can leave the television on and keep some recently worn clothes outside.
How to Solve Severe Separation Anxiety Problems?
In severe cases of SA, your dog will not be happy to be alone even after getting his favorite treat. He or she may start showing depression or sign of anxiousness as soon as you pick up your keys or put on your shoes. You can help them feel less anxious by conditioning them. Pick up your keys but do not leave. Repeat this several times. Similarly, you can put on your shoes and not go out.
When you start seeing less signs of anxiousness on these acts, you can not start the second step. Start disappearing for a few seconds after commanding your dog a 'stay.' Gradually increase the duration of the disappearance. As they start finding it easy to stay when you are not seen, you can begin the next step. Pick up your keys, tell your dog to stay, and go in another room. Gradually increase this duration.
Gradually, start using different rooms and finally, the exit door. It is important that you make sure that your dog is calm as you leave. Also, ensure adequate play and exercise time for your dogs. You can also play mind stimulating puzzles with them. A tired and busy dog will show less signs of anxiousness when you leave him alone.
In any case, do not punish the dog for showing anxiousness. Since they are already undergoing distressing experiences of being left alone, punishing or scolding them can make the problem much worse.