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How to Overcome Separation Anxiety in Dogs


Tuesday March 14th 2017



Modern-day lifestyles make it pretty impossible to spend 24-hours a day with your pooch. Although your dog should never be left alone for long periods, it’s important you tackle any anxiety your pup has when you leave the house for any length of time…

WHAT CAUSES SEPARATION ANXIETY?

When dogs are puppies they command a lot of attention and are rarely out of your sight. As they get older, and settle into a routine, they often find themselves away from their owners and begin to pine for them. This is when separation anxiety can begin to set in.

Any change in routine is likely to magnify the feelings related to being apart and so if you do have to change the schedule, do it gradually.

However, it’s also possible that this stress can come later on. Dogs can become anxious for a variety of reasons – when they are left for long periods of time or when they don’t get regular exercise. In these instances it’s only natural they crave more time with you but this should come without symptoms.

IDENTIFY THE SIGNS

Barking, howling and whining
If your dog isn’t usually too noisy then making excessive or unusual sounds is a likely indication that they are stressed.

Defecating and urinating indoors
No dog should be using your home as a toilet and pups should be trained to go outdoors from an early age. Providing you’ve followed this fundamental rule in puppy care, defecating or urinating indoors should stand out as peculiar behavior and highlight that your dog is more than likely feeling overly-anxious.

Being destructive
If your pup is scratching, chewing and generally causing damage then it is more than likely it’s vying for attention.

Pacing up and down
Any abnormal repetitive behaviour should be an instant red flag and alert you to the fact that your doggy is suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Escaping
It’s common for dogs with separation anxiety to want to free themselves from confines where they feel unhappy. They may escape through a gap in the fence or you may even find they’ve tried to dig themselves out of the living room and clawed right into the carpet.

HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM

Fake it ‘til you make it
As with any anxiety, relaxation is the key to resolving the problem. A good way to modify this behaviour and get your pooch to relax is to simulate leaving. Walk out the door for a couple of minutes and then come back in. This will get your doggy used to the feeling of you coming and going and diminish the feelings of anxiety that come when you walk out the door.

It may work to desensitise your pooch to its anxiety triggers; if they’re likely to become stressed when you put your coat on, or pick up your keys, try doing it periodically until it becomes the norm.

Ignorance is bliss
Separation anxiety often comes when your dog is missing the attention you show them. When you arrive home, try ignoring your pup until they calm down.

Rewarding a pining dog with affection is likely to exacerbate the situation and cause their behaviour to carry on or even get worse.

Medication
Behaviour modification is a training exercise, though if you’re overly concerned then you should see your vet who may be able to prescribe your pet some medication to reduce the anxiety levels.

Be aware, however, that medication should be a last resort and in any case, it should work to enhance the behaviour modification exercises you’re doing and not be used in lieu of them.

Alleviate boredom
One of the reasons your dog likes you being around is that you ease the boredom they feel when they’re alone.

This is quite simple to overcome and training toys, food dispensing puzzles and just a variety of new toys (or even just freshly washed toys) will provide a welcome distraction when you have to leave the house.

You can also try and put the TV or radio on which will give your pup the impression that people are still around.

BE SURE IT’S NOT SIMULATED SEPARATION ANXIETY

Though some pups do genuinely feel overly-anxious at the prospect of being apart from their owner, do not forget that dogs are clever and some may have honed the symptoms of separation anxiety as a way of gaining attention. Make sure you know the difference between genuine stress and learned behaviour.

Simulated anxiety can be easily overcome with a consistent approach to obedience. Prove you are in charge by mixing lots of exercise with varied authoritative commands.