A serious condition and more common than you would think. How we interact with our pets largely affects the development of separation anxiety. Do you come home from work to your pooch jumping and barking for joy? While it's a warmer greeting than the cat who runs in the other direction when you walk in the front door, it's not necessarily all about warm fuzzies. An overexcited dog jumping all over you when you get home may be an indicator that they have been suffering from anxiety.
What is separation anxiety?
This type of anxiety occurs when your dog is separated from you for periods of time. Behaviours will be exhibited when left alone and often just before leaving. They may begin to show signs of stress when they see you performing leaving behaviours like putting on your shoes or picking up the keys.
Signs of separation anxiety prior to leaving may include: following you closely, barking, whining, drooling or sweating and even aggression. Once you have left, other behaviours usually develop such as howling, crying, not eating, urinating or defecating inside, destroying furniture or objects, trying to get out by chewing on or scratching doors and windows.
It is important to note that some pets will exhibit these behaviours due to a lack of training. If your dog poops inside just as much when you're home as when you're gone, they likely just need more potty training.
Who does it affect?
This type of anxiety is particularly common among shelter or rescue dogs. Pets that have been in your home since a puppy are less likely to develop separation anxiety. However separation anxiety can be caused by a great number of variables such as the loss of a family member, a traumatic experience while home alone or from moving house.
Tips on how to manage
Dealing with separation anxiety is all about training your pet to be desensitised to you leaving and returning to the home. More severe cases of separation anxiety may require medications prescribed by a veterinarian.
- Avoid making a fuss when leaving or coming home. Ignore them in the few minutes prior to your departure. Lots of attention before leaving can cause greater stress, especially if they can feel you are anxious or guilty about leaving them.
- Don't let your dog develop negative associations to your morning rituals. If you putting on your shoes or picking up keys is a trigger for your pet, put on your shoes or pick up the keys and don't leave the house. Teach them that these actions will not result in you leaving the house.
- Trial short periods of time away from your pet where you are in a different room to them in the house. Provide something fun or yummy such as a chewy treat or interactive toy.
- Gradually increase the amount of time spent away from your pet. When you return from your absence, try not to promote excitable behaviour; wait until they are calm before giving them attention. When you get excited with your pet when you first return, this reinforces you coming home as a significant event.
- Try using Adaptil to help keep your pet calm and content while you are away. For indoor dogs plug in an diffuser in their favourite room, for outdoor dogs an Adaptil collar is a good option.
What to remember
Separation anxiety is not to be confused with disobedience but rather uncertainty of whether they will ever see you again. Bored pets can wreak havoc similar to anxious ones, stimulating toys with hidden treats are a good way to keep them busy while you're away. Be careful with edible chew sticks or pigs ears while unsupervised though as pets can try to swallow these whole. Taking your dog for a walk or playing with them prior to leaving will tire them out and make anxiety less likely.