by the Pupster Team (3.5 min read)Separation anxiety can be a tricky issue to spot in your pup, especially since it's easy to confuse with other behaviors. Many dogs are prone to getting into a bit of mischief when they're left alone for the day, but separation anxiety is the result of real stress felt by your dog. If she exhibits some of these behaviors when left alone, there's a chance she's suffering from separation anxiety:
- Lots of barking and howling
- Destructive acts, like chewing doors or furniture.
- Frantic scratching on doors and windows
- Indoor potty accidents
- Excessive salivation, drooling or panting
- Intense pacing
Dogs with separation anxiety experience these symptoms consistently whenever you leave, and in some instances, they may begin even before you head out for the day. Our dogs are good at watching us and learning our habits—so something as simple as you reaching for your keys might signal to your dog that you're planning on leaving the house, thus kicking off the separation anxiety process.
What you think might be separation anxiety could be the result of something else
Before diagnosing your dog with separation anxiety, we strongly recommend that you connect with a Pupster trainer to see if that's really the issue you and your pup are experiencing. Frequently, pet parents think that because their dog rifled through their closet and chewed up their favorite pair of shoes that their dog has separation anxiety. In many of the cases, however, chances are that the pup is just understimulated. Bored dogs are more likely to chew things that they shouldn't, but the items that they go after tend to be everyday things like shoes and socks. When a distressed dog chews, their targets usually aren't as predictable, and there's typically an element of panic involved. For example, a dog experiencing separation anxiety might splinter a doorframe into pieces, tear blinds off the windows, or upends large furniture pieces throughout the house. Frequently, the items they target tend to relate to confinement (e.g., crates, curtains, blinds, doors, and windows).
Potential Causes of Separation Anxiety
It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why a dog experiences separation anxiety. Generally speaking, significant life changes like a sudden change in schedule, moving to a new house, or the sudden absence of a family member can cause a dog to develop separation anxiety.
How to help your dog with separation anxiety
If you've already spoken with a Pupster Trainer, follow the advice they've given you. If you haven't already, we strongly recommend that you get help from a professional trainer, as separation anxiety can be a serious issue. In the meantime, here are some strategies for dealing with separation anxiety. There's no magic bullet to solving the problem, and like many things related to dog care, it takes time and consistency.
In some instances, you can help relieve your pup's anxiety by teaching her that separation can be rewarding. A dog suffering from separation anxiety is conditioned to become stressed when he recognizes that you're leaving her. You can practice countering this reaction by giving her a high-value treat, like her favorite toy or some smelly treats, or try leaving a few around the house for her to discover throughout the day. Also, make sure you've set her up for success by providing her with access to her crate, favorite toys, and adequate food and water. If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of crate training (and how to do it), head over to the Pupster Academy and watch our Crate Training activity.
You can also try identifying your pup's separation anxiety triggers. Do they become stressed when your morning alarm goes off? Can they tell when you're reaching for your keys or putting on a particular pair of shoes that you wear to work every day? Working with a Pupster Behaviorist, you can begin to control and manage your dog's reaction to these triggers by exposing your dog to low levels of the stimulus. Over time and with enough practice, this can help change your dog's response from one of panic to neutral awareness. However, this can be a difficult process, and it's essential that you don't flood your dog by repeatedly exposing her to repetitive, high-level instances of the trigger. When you're practicing this, do not leave the house when you begin your departure cues. The goal here is to make the trigger, like reaching for your keys, something that your pup doesn't notice or associates with something pupster. Your Pupster Behaviorist can help develop a program to deal with your pup's specific panic cues and coping abilities.
If your dog's a puppy, you can help start things off on the right foot by conditioning her to be ok with you leaving the house by leaving her for short periods, and then gradually lengthening the amount of time you're gone.
Make sure that your dog is getting plenty of physical and mental activity. If you're looking for inspiration, read our Pupster article on keeping your dog mentally stimulated while you're away. A tired and happy dog that's gone on a fun walk or had some playtime is much more likely to settle down when you leave.
Separation anxiety can be challenging to deal with, but we're here to help. Follow our Pupster tips and reach out with questions you have, and together we can help your dog lead a happy, healthy life.
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- Matt Saucedo