Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Common Signs & How to Help
It’s no wonder that so many people welcome dogs into their lives. New pups are lively and happy, intensely curious and loyal, and they make every day just a little brighter. Plenty of challenges come with owning a dog as well—obedience training is important and requires a lot of time; some of your furniture or a pillow will probably be gnawed upon; and you’ll likely clean up more than one mess in the house.
One other frustrating trait of some dogs is their behavior when you leave them. They get very attached to you and when left alone can resort to disruptive or destructive behavior such as urinating or pooping in the house, barking like crazy, howling, chewing on things, or digging for escape from an outdoor pen. Aside from the need for further training, this type of behavior is often a sign of distress known as separation anxiety.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety in dogs is a behavioral trait triggered when they are separated from people they are very attached to. It goes beyond a little whining or forgivable mischief and is in fact a serious condition that can lead to all manner of unfortunate and even tragic conclusions. For example, a dog determined to escape a house can hurt himself on windows or doors; and rampant destruction inside the home is also possible.
Some dogs with separation anxiety start to become agitated when they see you preparing to leave the house and might even try to stop you from leaving. After you leave, the dog typically starts barking or otherwise acting out within minutes and when you get back the dog goes berserk with joy, like you’ve been gone for a month.
Helping a dog with separation anxiety must focus on resolving his underlying anxiety by teaching him to be okay with being left alone. Interestingly, one of the ways to do this is to strategically stage experiences of being alone without feeling fear.
Some of the most common causes of a dog’s anxious behavior include:
- Being left alone for the first time
- Change in routine
- Change of owners
- Traumatic move from a shelter
- Loss of family member
Common signs of separation anxiety in dogs
While many signs of anxiety in dogs are similar, different breeds may behave in their own unique ways. Here are some traditional signs to watch for:
Barking and howling
A “go-to” behavior for anxious dogs is persistent barking or howling when separated from his owner or left alone.
Urinating or defecating
It’s easy to become angry with a dog if you come home to find a puddle in one corner and poop pile in the other. However, this may be a sign of separation anxiety. (Keep in mind if your dog voids while you’re standing right there; something else is amiss.)
Barking and howling
Some dog owners leaving the house will hear their pups barking in wails before reaching the end of the driveway. As soon as they are left alone, some dogs take to persistent barking or mournful howls.
Separation anxiety can also instigate all manner of destructive behavior such as chewing on furniture, gnawing on door or window frames, and general mayhem with other household objects. This is not only frustrating for you in terms of damage but chances are good that your dog could sustain injury like cuts or broken teeth.
The great escape
Another common anxious behavior in dogs is the desire to escape. Indoor dogs might spend all afternoon chewing at a door frame to try and get out and find you. Dogs confined to an outdoor pen will often dig like an out of control backhoe or gnaw and scrape at the fence in attempts to flee. Especially in cases with fences, serious injury is possible or even death if a dog gets stuck in the fence or pierced with a spear of metal.
The pace race
A path in the lawn tracing the perimeter of a yard is a familiar sight at many homes and while this can be simply the trail of an excited dog following a rabbit or squirrel; it might also be evidence of anxiety. Some dogs will pace back and forth or in circular patterns for hours in the absence of their owners.
Unpleasant and stomach-churning to say the least, when left alone some dogs will poop and then eat it. It is unclear for sure if this makes them feel any better but it is an unfortunate side effect.
How to help dogs with separation anxiety
While we still don’t have verified evidence for why dogs develop separation anxiety, it is widely believed that one significant driver is loss of an important person or sibling. Separation anxiety is far more prevalent in dogs adopted from shelters than those in the same family since puppyhood. A similar reason includes sudden change of family or owner or abrupt change in schedule. A change in residence and all of the “newness” that comes with it can be a trigger, as can a change in family dynamics.
In all cases, the first step to help your dog is rule out any medical problems. From there, try giving you dog a treat every time you leave. (Toys stuffed with peanut butter are great for this.) Keep your departures low-key and in fact, try to ignore your pup for a few minutes after you return. You can also leave out some recently worn clothing; your scent can be a calming agent.
We know your dog is a cherished member of your family, so our entire team shares a commitment to provide the best, most compassionate veterinary care for your dog. We offer a variety of dog services to in the Pflugerville/Austin-Round Rock, TX area including vaccines, dental care, weight management, senior care, and more. Call (512) 251-BARK today to learn more!