Ever come home from work to find your favorite pair of shoes in pieces, your blinds ripped apart, or your door scratched to ruins? You aren’t alone. And, while this behavior could indicate that your dog needs to be properly trained, it could also mean she’s suffering from separation anxiety. Here are some signs of separation anxiety and how to combat it.
The signs of separation anxiety
Many dogs suffering from separation anxiety begin to show signs of distress as soon as they can sense their owners are preparing to leave the house. Here are a few signs to watch for:
- Inappropriate urinating and defecating
- Excessive barking and howling that seems to be triggered by being left alone
- Chewing, digging, and destroying parts of the house or items in it
- Often extreme escape attempts
- Pacing, often in a fixed pattern
- Coprophagia (consuming her own excrement) when left alone
There are many reasons dogs can develop separation anxiety, including the loss of an important person or entire family (especially early in life), a schedule change, a move, and more.
How to conquer separation anxiety
Mild cases of separation anxiety can often be resolved through counterconditioning. This training method associates the sight or presence of something the dog dislikes (it could be a person, animal, place, object, or situation) with something the dog loves. In time, the dog learns that this dislike actually brings good things, and the fearful or anxious feeling is converted to a pleasant, relaxed feeling.
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, use counterconditioning to develop an association between being alone and something your dog loves, like treats. When you leave the house—every time—give your dog a puzzle toy stuffed with food or treats (try a KONG toy with frozen spray cheese or peanut butter) that will take her at least 20 minutes to finish. When you arrive home, remove the toy immediately. She should only have access to this special toy and the treats inside when she’s by herself.
If your dog’s separation anxiety is severe and counterconditioning doesn’t seem to help, she may be suffering from an underlying medical or behavioral issue. If you have questions about your pet’s separation anxiety give our office a call, and we will be glad to help.