Separation Anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed behavior problem in dogs currently. When separated from family members, dogs may experience distress and engage in problem behaviors related to that distress. Some dogs are distressed about being home alone because the person to whom they are attached is absent; others are distressed because something provoking fear or anxiety has occurred while they were alone.
These two underlying motivations are not mutually exclusive; a dog can be distressed for both reasons. The most common concurrent diagnoses are storm/noise sensitivities and separation anxiety.
8 Clinical Signs to Look Out For
1. Hyper attachment to one or more members of the house Dogs will whine when you leave the room or follow you to the bathroom and scratch/whine at the door until you come out. They get anxious when they cannot see you.
2. Destruction of items in the home Tearing up couch cushions, tearing up pillows, tearing up shoes, tearing up blinds in the window, chewing up door frames, etc.
3. Vocalization Dogs may bark non-stop when being left alone. If you aren't sure, ask your neighbors.
4. Whining/Panting/shaking excessively before you leave the home You may notice this as you are going through your routine to leave the house. There is likely something in your routine that signals to them that they are about to be alone.
5. Urinating/defecating in the house Dogs may urinate or defecate on the floor, on clothing piles, or on the couch or bed.
6. Lethargy or anorexia Dogs may refuse to eat when you are not home even if other members of your family are home. They may seclude themselves until the person they are attached to returns home.
7. Excessive drooling You may find large puddles of drool all over the house. Also, be sure to check blankets and sheets. Dogs will also lick or suckle on things like this excessively.
8. Attempting to escape Look for any disturbance in the areas near entrances/exits to your home to see if anything appears out of place. Dogs can also injure themselves so be sure to check their paws, teeth, etc.
5 Treatment Options to Help With Separation Anxiety
1. Independence training The goal is to make the dog less attached and encourage more activity by themselves. This can be achieved in several ways including:
Ignoring the attention seeking behavior (not ignoring the dog)
Establish a predictable exercise routine, play schedule, walk time, etc.
Create a safe location for the dog and teach them to stay and relax in that location
Use of a kong toy (stuffing their favorite treat inside).
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2. Reducing habits The goal is to reduce the predictable cues that indicate to the dog that they are about to be alone. Going through your routine to leave the house without leaving. Perform this several times daily. The dog will learn that this routine does not always mean you are leaving.
3. Counter conditioning Teaching them to engage in other activities, such as having them go to the safe place you established or give them a food stuffed toy \prior to leaving the house.
4. Pheromone Therapy Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP) typically comes in a diffuser that plugs into an outlet and also a continuous release collar. The pheromones mimic similar pheromones that are naturally produced by a female dog several days after giving birth to puppies. It induces a sense of security and safety.
5. Medical therapy There are a number of medications that can be useful in controlling the clinical signs associated with anxiety behaviors. It is always recommended to have a complete exam and evaluation by a Veterinarian prior to starting medications.
Setting up a video camera in your home can be useful to aid in the diagnosis of Separation Anxiety or other anxiety related behaviors. You may not always come home to a mess, destruction, or eliminations in the house but that doesn’t mean anxiety behavior is not taking place. Dogs can still exhibit anxiety behavior that is not visible such as barking uncontrollably or pacing around the house for hours. If you are seeing signs of anxiety related behavior prior to leaving the house, setting up a video camera can help identify if the behaviors are continuing once you leave.
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Published by Dr. Mason Romero, DVM