Even adult dogs can suffer from separation anxiety. The trigger: they become agitated when they’re separated from their owners. Some are stressed before their owners leave and some may try to keep them from leaving. Within minutes of their owners’ departure, they’ll begin barking and many will resort to destructive behaviors. Then, when their owners return, they overreact – behaving as though they’ve been separated for years.
Typical behaviors: excessive drooling, panting and/or salivating, excessive whining, howling and/or barking, having indoor “accidents” despite being house trained, pacing in an obsessive pattern, chewing things up, digging holes, scratching at the windows and doors, and trying to escape.
If this sounds achingly familiar, speak to your vet and arrange for your cherished canine companion to be thoroughly examined in order to rule out any medical concerns. For example: dogs may have “accidents” unrelated to separation anxiety. The cause may be an infection, hormone problems, certain medications or other conditions. It could also be the result of incomplete house training.
Should your dog receive a clean bill of health, then the problem is most assuredly behavioral. If the dog separation anxiety is mild, address it as if he were a puppy and begin at the beginning, paw step by paw step, to build up his self-confidence. Provide him with a “special treat” such as a puzzle toy or a Kong stuffed with peanut butter whenever you leave and remove it as soon as you arrive back home.
Ensure that each departure and return is as casual and relaxed as possible – no exaggerated “goodbyes” or “hellos” – and pay no attention to your dog – however he behaves – for the first few minutes after you get home. Leave him with one of your articles of clothing that bear your scent to reduce his stress and make him feel more comfortable on his own. Consider giving him over-the-counter natural calming supplements.
If, however, the problem is more serious, you will have to slowly, patiently and gently, accustom him to feeling safe and secure in your absence. Should your dog appear nervous when he sees signs that you’re preparing to leave, such as putting on your shoes or picking up your keys, do it but don’t leave. Put on your shoes and then sit down on the couch or a chair. Pick up your keys and turn on the TV. Repeat this over and over again throughout the day.
Once your dog appears more relaxed around these two actions, slowly distance yourself from him. Begin by going to the front door, instructing your dog to “stay” and then close the door behind you. Wait a few seconds, open the door and come back inside. Gradually increase the amount of time you’re gone. Put on your shoes and pick up your keys. Ask your dog to “stay” and simply go into another room.
As he gets used to the “stay” game, increase the amount of time you’re gone. When you’ve built up to spending 10 or more seconds apart, keeping your departures and returns calm, reward him with a tasty stuffed treat and plenty of loving pets. Then, slowly increase the time you’re apart from seconds to minutes, appropriately rewarding him each time, until you’re able to stay away for longer and longer periods.
Most importantly, to ease dog separation anxiety, make certain to exercise your dog as much as possible every day. Not only is a tired dog a contented dog but he’s less likely to feel anxious when you leave. Coupled with physical activity is mental stimulation – essential to challenging his mind and keeping him satisfied. Engage him through the use of interactive puzzles and toys, play games of tug-o-war and fetch, and hope that by happily wearing him out, he’ll barely notice the next time you leave.
But if these suggestions don’t help, either speak with your vet again or engage the services of a certified animal behaviorist.
By Nomi Berger