Dogs can develop symptoms of separation anxiety requiring treatment for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it's hard to pinpoint the cause. However, it is often seen in dogs rescued from animal shelters, dogs that have lived in multiple homes, dogs that have been abused, and in dogs that lived for years with elderly, homebound owners.
Some dogs develop separation anxiety in which they become extremely anxious when separated from their owners. For some dogs, this anxiety occurs if their owner leaves the room. For others, it occurs if their owner leaves the house. For others, it occurs if their owner is gone for more than a certain length of time. It is different for all dogs.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Symptoms that separation anxiety treatment may be required include dogs who destroy parts of the house when left alone, dogs who urinate or defecate on the floor when left alone, and dogs who vocalize enough to disturb the neighbors when alone.
It should be understood that the symptoms of the anxiety disorder, such as urinating in the house, are due to the disorder and are not due to misbehavior. The appearance of anxiety is an indication of your dog's ability to cope with its environment. Without the ability to adapt, your dog cannot be expected to react as a normally adjusted dog would.
It must be considered as a major pathological state: it considerably handicaps the patient and thus profoundly modifies the relationship the dog enjoys with its environment, its fellow creatures and humans. Punishing your dog for this only increases the anxiety; therefore it is important to treat the anxiety instead of reacting to a particular symptom.
Diagnosing Canine Separation Anxiety
If your pet shows signs of separation anxiety, you can try some of the steps below to see if they correct the problem. It's a good idea, though, to visit your vet for a physical exam, just to make sure there are no medical issues contributing to the problem. If not, your vet can help you come up with a dog separation anxiety treatment plan. If necessary, your vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medication for your pet.
Dog Separation Anxiety Treatment
There are 3 steps to dog separation anxiety treatment:
Change the Environment
Minimizing the areas your dog comes in contact with can help to reduce anxiety. You can start by reducing access to areas where destruction takes place and only allowing access to safe places such as a crate and removal of stimulus such as dog day care. Vary the toys available for your pet so that no one toy represents a certain habitual behavior.
Giving your dog extra attention and having a regular schedule for feeding, walks, and playtime may help. Experts also recommend plenty of exercise, 45 - 60 minutes per day. In addition, mental stimulation is important to dogs. This includes things like playing fetch and learning commands. Many dogs were bred to be working dogs, and they become bored and anxious without "work" to do.
If possible, you can gradually increase the amount of time you are away from your dog to see if he can slowly build more tolerance to being away from you. Or, you might want to consider "doggy day care" so that your pet is not left alone all day while you go to work. If all else fails, an anti-anxiety medication may be required.
There are learning techniques to teach your dog how to be more independent. This includes not making a big deal of the times you are leaving or returning, and eliminating the signs to your dog (cues) that you are getting ready to leave such as changing your routine. By not sending out cues that you are leaving (such as picking up car keys), you are not differentiating for your dog behaviors that are cued by specific actions that you as the owner are taking. Do not say goodbye or hello to your pet for a period of time to downplay these critical times.
Teach your dog how to sit or stay and reinforce with something positive such as a treat. Pick a room of the house where your dog will stay when you are away. Associate this room with positive activities. Teaching positive behaviors against specific actions will begin to be applied to other more anxiety provoking situations.
Desensitization is a technique that involves slowing reducing the cause of the anxiety response so that change isn't so dramatic. The idea is to create a cue that represents something safe, such as returning quickly. After that, create another cue for a longer absence. Slow training will gradually result in the ability to take longer absences because your dog will learn what to expect.
Prescription medication can be used in conjunction with behavioral
therapy. The FDA has approved Clomipramine "Clomicalm", a tricyclic
antidepressant for separation anxiety in dogs. If you are reluctant to
try prescription medications, a homeopathic alternative worth trying is PetAlive PetCalm Formula for Anxious and Stressed Pets.
Treatment for separation anxiety usually lasts several weeks.
How to Deal with Anxiety and Stress Responses: Dogs
Hillestad, Katherine DVM
Standards of Care
Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Dr. Mois's Heiblum