HELPING DOGS WITH SEPARATION ANXIETY

As dog owners, we love our dogs very; much, don’t we? Guess what? You have no idea how much your dog loves you more than you can imagine. So it stands to reason when you leave home, your dog stresses out. This article is all about helping dogs with separation anxiety. We are our dog’s whole world. They live for us & because of us. We feed & water them. We bathe them, play with them, pet & cuddle them.

Now imagine what they must think when all of a sudden you go out the door, maybe to go to work or the mall & you don’t come back for hours on end! Dogs have no concept of time. I can only imagine that it must seem like an eternity for them to be alone with no human companionship or mental stimulation. Minutes feel like hours to them. They get lonely. Loneliness turns into nervousness. Do they start to wonder where my human is? When are they coming back? What if they never come back? Ohh NOOOOOOO!

This is what goes through your dog’s mind when you leave them alone for an extended length of time. This is what Separation Anxiety looks like. It’s no wonder when you finally come home. They do the happy dance, jump on you, bark, whine & lick you to death.

Dog Separation Anxiety Symptoms

Separation anxiety in dogs stems from the species’ unique bond with humans, says James Ha, Ph.D., certified applied animal behaviorist, professor, and author of “Dog Behavior: Modern Science and Our Canine Companions.”

It’s only natural for a dog to form a strong bond with the people he spends the most time with; however, if this bond is too strong or unhealthy, then the possibility exists for the dog to experience extreme anxiety when their owner leaves home. This anxiety is created by the separation of the dog from the owner.

Jill Goldman, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist in Los Angeles, California, agrees, noting that dog separation anxiety symptoms can range from mild to severe.

“They can range from barking and pacing to jumping out of a window,” she says. “These dogs have an extreme fear of abandonment.”

These are the physical and behavioral signs of distress that often manifest in the first 15-20 minutes of the owner’s departure from the home listed by Dr. Ha in the Merck veterinary Manual.

Consistent, intensive destruction:

Some dogs destroy things in an attempt to express their anxiety, Dr. Ha says, including trying to tear through doors and doorways. “One of my client’s dogs destroyed three leather sofas while she and her husband were out one afternoon,” he says. “He completely eviscerated them!”

Inappropriate elimination

Accidents happen—but when a dog urinates or defecates on the floor only after their mom or dad leaves the house, separation anxiety may be to blame, Dr. Ha says.

Vocalization

A dog with separation anxiety might also bark, whine and howl while their owners are away. “Often, you’ll find out about it from a neighbor, who will complain that your dog is barking incessantly while you’re gone,” Dr. Ha says.

Salivation

Drooling and pacing are some other symptoms of separation anxiety, Dr. Ha says. “It might even start when the owner grabs her coat or keys—the dog will start to salivate and pace around nervously.”

Why Dogs Get Separation Anxiety

Experts can’t seem to pin down the exact reason why dogs have separation anxiety however, they do know the conditions that trigger the anxiety.

Dr. Goldman says a newly adopted dog who has just moved into his new home may act out when his new owner leaves the house for any length of time. This is understandable being that the dog is still adjusting to his new environment & new owner. From the dog’s perspective, his whole world has been turned upside down.

When a family member moves away or changes their schedule Dr. Ha say’s this can also trigger separation anxiety. I know this from personal experience. I have a rescued Pitbull Terrier named “Smokey”. We already had a 10-year-old Dalmatian/Rottweiler mix dog named “Raina” when we rescued “Smokey” & introduced him to the family. After 5 years “Raina” who was now 14 years old, had become too hold to get up & down plus she had incontinence problems. We had to euthanize her. This was “Smokey’s” companion for 5 years. Once she was gone, he searched the house for 2 days looking for her. After 2 days of searching, “Smokey” started defecating & urinating in the house at night while we slept. He missed his companion & was confused & depressed because one day she was here & then the next day she was gone.

Any disruption in a regular schedule can trigger the anxiety. For example, if you are home from work for an extended time like a vacation & when go back to work after your 2 weeks off. This confuses your dog after he just got used to you being home, you go back to work & he is alone again all day.

How to Help a Dog with Separation Anxiety

Dr. Ha says to first rule out any medical issues your dog my have like arthritis or endocrine abnormalities before treating your dog for separation anxiety, especially in senior dogs ages 6 years & older. Senior dogs should be thoroughly examined by a veterinarian if anxiety symptoms should arise.

If your Vet finds no medical reasons for the anxiety behavior then you can begin to work on your dog by exposing the dog to short absences that aren’t related to stress, Dr. Goldman says.

By doing this you are teaching your dog “I go away but I come right back” “I go out the door, but I come right back”. The dog will start to understand that even though you are going away you are sure to come back. This training your dog to have a new mindset when it comes to you going away.

Gradual departure and slow conditioning are key, Dr. Ha says, along with figuring out when the dog starts to react and become anxious.

Toys Are a Great Distraction

“He may be happy for 5 minutes, chewing on his KONG and lying in his bed,” he says. “But a few minutes later, he might start pacing and salivating.” And that’s where the training to reduce anxiety begins, Dr. Ha says.

You will need to start extending the times when your away. Start with being away for 5 minutes then come back. The next couple of times stay away for 10 minutes and then come back. Make sure during the training process that you do not leave your dog totally home alone. Find a dog sitter, dog daycare, or family member to be there when you leave so that he doesn’t experience that fear or anxiety. It can be tedious, but it works.”

Once the dog feels calm and comfortable staying at home alone for short periods of time, enrichment toys—like puzzle toys, such as Nina Ottosson’s Puzzle Toys, KONG toys like the KONG Classic stuffed with peanut butter, and other safe chew toys like 

Om Dawg Stress Reduction System, which includes a durable rubber ball and a relaxing CD—will provide long-lasting entertainment, Dr. Goldman says.

“But you need to make sure they actually engaged in this enrichment,” she says. “If a dog is too stressed out, they’ll totally ignore it and then resume eating [the food or treats stuffed in the toys] when the owner comes home.

“Instead, introduce the toy when the dog is experiencing very short periods of owner absence,” she continues. “Then you can gradually increase the time, increase the amount of food and increase the complexity of that enrichment toy.”

Along with the mental stimulation, your dog separation anxiety solutions must include physical stimulation, too, Dr. Goldman says.

Exercise Your Pet Before You Leave

“You need to exercise your dog to set them up to be relaxed while they’re at home,” she says. “My recommendation is you set them up for success by giving them a very good exercise session to expend their reservoir of energy. And for young, healthy, strapping dogs, that’s a good 40 to 60 minutes in the morning.”

Other adjuncts to behavioral therapy to try include classical music and a calming vest like the ThunderShirt, Dr. Goldman says.

“They’ve been shown to reduce stress-related behavior in dogs,” she says. “But something like the vest has to be introduced properly so you can condition the dog to feel comfortable in it.”

A crate, however, is not recommended in dogs with separation anxiety.

“It depends on the dog, but some will shred the crate when they have extreme separation anxiety in an attempt to get to their owners,” Dr. Ha says. “And that can really injure them.”

In severe cases of dog separation anxiety, medication, says Dr. Goldman. But they should be used in conjunction with a behavior therapy plan.

“Clinical studies have shown that their efficacy is at their maximum when the anti-anxiety medication is administered in conjunction with behavior therapy,” she says.

Frequently Asked Questions

Separation anxiety in dogs can be a frustrating issue—especially if your dog chews through your door trim “like mine did”, tears through the garbage or rips apart your windowsill. Below, you can find answers to some of the most common questions about the topic.

Is there a cure for separation anxiety in dogs?

A: Yes, oftentimes there is a cure, or at least a workable solution—and they both involve a solid behavioral therapy plan, conditioning and a very patient owner, Dr. Ha says.

“In some cases, yes, separation anxiety in dog is curable,” he says. “For many cases, however, we cannot eliminate it, but we can reduce it to workable levels.”

He recommends owners talk to their veterinarian and work closely with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist to develop a game plan that involves training, anxiety management and, if necessary, anti-anxiety medications that are safe for dogs to use.

Q:

My dog has separation anxiety at night. Do you know why?

A: If the parents are there with the dog in the house, it’s likely not separation anxiety, but rather fear of the dark, Dr. Ha says.

“Trigger-stacking happens when a dog that’s a little anxious is exposed to something else that makes him anxious, and that causes him to panic,” he explains. “So, if an alr

My dog has separation anxiety at night. Do you know why?

A: If the parents are there with the dog in the house, it’s likely not separation anxiety, but rather fear of the dark, Dr. Ha says.

“Trigger-stacking happens when a dog that’s a little anxious is exposed to something else that makes him anxious, and that causes him to panic,” he explains. “So, if an already-anxious dog has a fear of the dark, that could lead to nighttime anxiety, where he might pace, salivate and scratch at the owner’s bedroom door when it’s dark.”

If dog separation anxiety at night happens all of a sudden, he says, take your dog to the veterinarian for a checkup.

“It could be that he’s going blind,” Dr. Ha says. “Older dogs, especially, could develop nighttime fear as a result of a medical issue.”

Q:

What can I give my dog while he is anxious to help him calm down quickly?

A: Your veterinarian can help suggest dog separation anxiety medication to quickly reduce your pal’s separation anxiety symptoms, says Dr. Ha.

“There are very quick-acting, short-term anti-anxiety medications that are very safe to use,” he says.

Source: Wendy Wilson Via pet central (petcentral.com)