Separation Anxiety in Pets
As pet owners, we love dogs and we love knowing our dogs love us! Unfortunately, it’s easy to slip into a dependent relationship with our four-legged friends that affects their behaviour when we leave the house. If your dog is destructive, vocal and stressed when home alone, they might be suffering from separation anxiety.
In this article, the Kirrawee Veterinary Hospital team are explaining separation anxiety and exploring how you can minimise the problem.
The Downside of Too Much Love
If you’ve spent valuable time training your dog and instilling polite house manners, it can be baffling when they start howling, barking, urinating, defecating, chewing, digging or trying to escape as soon as you leave. These are all signs of distress in canines, and it may be due to separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is triggered when owners leave the home and dogs become extremely upset. Escape attempts and household destruction can be dangerous, and a howling dog is the fastest way to annoy your neighbours. The goal of treatment here is to calm the dog’s anxiety and teach it to tolerate being left alone.
Why Do Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety?
Some dogs are prone to separation anxiety, especially if they were adopted from a shelter and have had traumatic experiences. However, most of the time, separation anxiety is caused by:
- A change of guardian or family
- A change in schedule (being left alone for the first time or for longer than usual)
- A change in residence
- The sudden absence of a family member due to death or moving away
Treating Mild Separation Anxiety
Mild separation anxiety can be treated with counterconditioning. This is a simple process that transforms your dog’s anxious reaction to a pleasant one instead. By associating a feared person, situation, or place with something good (like a treat or a toy), you can teach the dog to enjoy the situation.
When you leave the house for work, give your dog a treat. The best outcome may be with a Kong toy that is stuffed with treats, giving them a long-term distraction. Be sure to remove those toys as soon as you come home so your dog thinks those high-value treats are only accessible when they’re alone.
Treating Severe Separation Anxiety
Severe cases require more complicated treatments. In these cases, you must gradually introduce your dog to being alone with many short separations that increase in length over time.
- Step One – if your dog reacts to pre-departure cues (picking up your keys, putting on shoes, etc.), teach your dog that this doesn’t always mean you are leaving. Perform these actions several times a day when you are staying home to reduce your dog’s anxiety.
- Step Two – start with very short departures by training your dog to perform out-of-sight stays where you retreat to the other side of a door. Gradually increase the length of these stays.
- Step Three – introduce treats and toys while you’re out of sight, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Make sure your dog is completely calm again before you repeat leaving.
If none of the above steps work for your dog, you can:
- Take your pup to doggy daycare while you’re out
- Arrange for a dog sitter to come to your house
- Give your dog plenty of mental and physical stimulation like long walks, puzzle toys, playing with other dogs, hiding food around the house, etc.
Bring Your Dog to Kirrawee Veterinary Hospital
If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety and you don’t know what to do about it, visit your local team at Kirrawee Veterinary Hospital. We will offer knowledgeable advice and tips to help you overcome the problem. You can call us on (02) 9521 6422 or contact us online to book an appointment.