Separation anxiety is a very common behavioral problem in dogs. It comes about because the dog fears or dislikes isolation. This causes him to engage in undesirable behaviors such as excess barking or whining, inappropriate urination or defecation, destructive behaviors or hyperactivity. Typically these dogs engage in these undesirable behaviors while the owners are gone and then have an excessive and prolonged greeting when the owner returns.
What causes separation anxiety? Sometimes it is caused by trauma in a young dog’s life. Dogs that are separated from their mothers too early or are abandoned and raised in cages in animal shelters or pet stores, never form proper attachments with their mothers. In an older dog a similar condition can occur if the person to whom the dog is attached to leaves permanently or temporarily, or if there is a lifestyle change where an owner goes back to work or where a new family member is added. These poor dogs then start to show abnormal or inappropriate behavior.
Destructive behavior such as barking and chewing is the most common behavior displayed by these dogs, but other “bad” behaviors are also seen. Some dogs sense that the owner is going to leave and become anxious even before the owner leaves. This anxiety peaks about 30 minutes after the owner leaves and this is when the most destructive behavior usually occurs.
What do you do if your dog shows signs of separation anxiety? Behavioral modification involving planned departures. The dog is initially left alone for only very short intervals to get him accustomed to being alone. The time left alone is gradually built up to 1.5 hours. Departure and return should be as quiet as possible to avoid anxiety in the dog. Insure that your dog gets enough exercise as dogs who get more exercise have less anxiety. If the dog is more confident in what he can do ( such as herd sheep, or run agility) he will be less dependent on his owner and the anxiety will decrease, so a “dog job” is a great idea.
Conventional anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed for these dogs to help them adjust. I usually like natural treatments such as Dog Appeasing Pheromone sprays or collars, L-theanine, Melatonin or Belladonna or Herbal Calmers. One such calmer is Lesstress for Dog Anxiety.
Prevention of separation anxiety is key when raising a puppy. When a puppy or new dog is brought into the house it is important to avoid situations which will encourage excessive attachments. All puppies should be crate trained and taught the crate is a safe haven and a good place to go, never a punishment. Good diets with quality homemade products help these dogs as well because some dogs are very sensitive to additives and preservatives in commercial foods and these can cause hyperactivity.