When we're installing electric fences for our clients in Southeast Michigan, we hear a lot of stories about dogs misbehaving when their owners are away. So, today our guest expert and Vetrinarian gives you some tips to help your dog deal with your busy schedule of coming and going.
Does My Dog Have Separation Anxiety?
Classically defined, dogs with separation anxiety exhibit distress and behavior problems when they’re left alone. The most common behaviors are:
- Digging and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to reunite with their owners
- Destructive chewing
- Howling, barking and whining
- Urination and defecation even if house trained
If most or all of the following statements are true about your dog, he may have a separation anxiety problem.
- The behavior occurs primarily when he’s left alone and typically begins soon after you leave
- He follows you from room to room whenever you’re home
- He displays effusive, frantic greeting behavior
- The behavior occurs whether he’s left alone for short or long periods
- He reacts with excitement, depression or anxiety to your preparation to leave the house
It is not fully understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and others don’t . But it’s important to realize that destruction and house soiling that often occur with separation anxiety are part of a panic response. Your dog is NOT trying to punish you for leaving him alone.
What Triggers Anxiety in Your Dog?
The following are some common scenarios that can trigger separation anxiety:
- A dog accustomed to constant human companionship is left alone for the first time
- A dog suffers a traumatic event (from his viewpoint) such as time at a shelter or boarding kennel.
- There’s a change in the families’ routine or structure, or the loss of a family member or other pet
The first step in tackling behavior issues, is to rule out any underlying medical problem that might be causing the pets behavior. For example if your pet is urinating in the house, he might be suffering from a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, diabetes, or kidney disease, all of which can cause urinary incontinence in dogs. Autoimmune thyroiditis occurs in young dogs and changes behavior. So see your veterinarian first.
Treating Minor Anxiety in Your Dog
How to treat minor separation anxiety:
- Don’t make a big deal out of arrivals and departures. For example when you arrive home, ignore your dog for the first few minutes, then calmly pet him.
- When preparing for departure. Many dogs know when you’re about to leave the house and will get anxious or prevent your departure altogether. One way to tackle ‘pre-departure anxiety’ is to teach your dog that when you pick up your keys, or put on your coat, it doesn’t always mean you’re leaving. For example, put on your boots and coat and then sit down and watch TV instead of leaving.
- Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like you, such as an old T shirt that you’ve slept in recently. Or leave a food dispensing toy, such as a Kong when you leave. This rewards the dog for you leaving and keeps him occupied.
- Establish a safety cue, a word or action that your use every time you leave that tells your dog you’ll be back.
- Consider using an over the counter calming product that may reduce fearfulness in the dog, such as Pro quiet, or Bach flowers.
More severe problems may require a professional dog trainer. And/or the use of behavioral anti-anxiety mediations such as Elavil or Buspar. (again, see your veterinarian)
What won’t work is punishment. This is not effective and can make the situation worse. Nor will getting your dog a companion dog. The anxiety results from his separation from YOU, not just the result of being alone.
Nor will crating. Your dog will still engage in anxiety responses inside a crate, and may urinate, defecate, or even injure himself in an attempt to escape. Since separation anxiety is not the result of disobedience or lack of training, therefore obedience training will not help.
Separation anxiety is much more common now than ever before. Perhaps this is the result of humans trying the make the family pet a member of the family. Remember, dogs are pack animals. Discipline is part of their society. It will take time for your dog to unlearn his panic response, but it can be done with combinations of the above.
– Dr Mark Newkirk, Newkirk Family Veterinarians
About the Author: Dr Mark Newkirk is CEO, owner and operator of Newkirk Family Veterinarians. Serving pets for 3 decades!