Dogs are social creatures who crave the continual company of others. They want to be around their “pack” and their owners all the time. They enjoy the bond and the friendship that they build with those around them. However, separation anxiety in dogs can also be prevalent, especially if the dog becomes too dependent on you and isn’t used to being left alone.
Research show that about 15% of all dogs suffer from separation anxiety and that number seems to be increasing.
Understanding what causes separation anxiety and how you can fix the problem is always a very welcome piece of knowledge to have in the long run, especially because separation anxiety is a major reason dogs end up in shelters.
There is no clear reason as to why anxiety in dogs persists, and opinion is divided into several theories. A very popular theory that a lot of vets believe is because of the very tight bond between the dog and the owner, over-dependence is being bred in the dog. When the owner isn’t accessible, the dog becomes impaired and troubled. It is also said that some dogs are anxious since from birth. Also major changes such as being separated for extended periods of time, moving homes, and traumatic experiences such as abandonment can contribute to separation anxiety.
You will know if your dog is experiencing an anxiety-related behavioural problem if he’s doing a majority of these things:
If your dog excessively barks or licks himself, eliminates waste improperly, howls and whines insistently every time you’re not around
If he follows you everywhere you go
If he starts looking startled and confused every time you’re readying yourself to leave the house
If he jumps on you or gives you unnecessarily over-the-top greetings every time you return home
Attempts to escape
Appetite loss and/or excessive salivation
Other forms of destructive behaviour like chewing, biting, scratching, digging or crying
There are varying degrees of separation anxiety in dogs, but most mild cases can be solved by following the steps below. Severe cases will take more time and effort and may need to be carried out with the assistance by a vet. The philosophy surrounding these techniques is this: your dog must be able to recognise that it is impossible for you to be with him all the time and that you will need to be separated from each other often.
Provide enough sustenance for you dog while you are away. Give him enough water and food. This will help your dog feel safe while you’re gone.
Exercise is key. Everytime you’re with your dog, always take him out for a leash walk or a run. Stimulation always distracts your pet and will always make him happy. It also means that he will need to rest when you’re already out.
Give your dog some food just before you leave the house. This lets him know you care and is also an effective distraction while you’re preparing to leave.
In preparing to leave, never pay attention to your dog, especially if he is being fidgety. The same case applies when you arrive home from work. Only initiate contact after 15 minutes or once he is calm.
In your relationship, your dog will try to be the “Alpha Dog” or the leader, which can contribute to separation anxiety. Give him some basic obedience training so he’ll be able to identify that you are the leader in your relationship, not him. Once your dog begins to trust you as a leader, he will begin treating you like one.
If you still feel your dog is experiencing separation anxiety it is worth discussing the matter further with your local vet.