There’s no denying that a dog holds a special place in their owner’s hearts. They always seem to know when you need a nuzzle or a snuggle, and can bring endless joy and entertainment into your day. They’re a part of your family and consider you part of theirs. Yet sometimes, a pet can become too reliant on your special bond and start displaying symptoms of separation anxiety – and in turn start engaging in destructive behavior.
Seasoned pet owners are often aware of the process that dog lovers go through when raising a puppy or welcoming an older dog into a new home. For new pet owners (or seasoned owners who’ve never had a dog with separation issues), there are a handful of behaviors that signify separation anxiety in your pet. Before you become upset with your pet for acting out, take a look what separation anxiety looks like, why it occurs, and how it can be treated.
What Separation Anxiety Looks Like
One of the most common behaviors of separation anxiety is barking. As pet owners who have experienced this already know, the barking can be prolonged and cause issues with neighboring residents and pets. Another form of separation anxiety can surface as the destructive behavior of chewing. This is particularly stressful to pet owners who are dealing with damaged furniture, doorframes, or personal items. Digging is another issue that can cause damage to lawns or even flooring. Dogs will also pace or escape as a result of anxiety, and two more symptoms include urinating and defecating.
Why Separation Anxiety Occurs
While there is no concrete data that explains why dogs develop separation anxiety, owners of rescue pets tend to report higher occurrences of anxiety-related behaviors. This leads experts to believe that a traumatic event (such as being displaced or losing an owner) can cause separation anxiety in dogs. Less dramatic changes can also trigger behaviors such as a change in residence, the addition of a new family member, or even a change in furniture layout.
How to Begin Treating Separation Anxiety
Before you begin treating your pet for anxiety behaviors, take a moment to rule out any medical triggers. Urinating can sometimes be a result of health-related issues, and chewing, digging, hyperactivity can be a result of natural juvenile activity or new medications.
After the medical and age-related triggers are ruled out, you can begin taking steps to treat the symptoms of separation anxiety. Counter-conditioning is one approach to correcting separation anxiety, and method supported by the ASPCA. This method works to convert anxious reactions into pleasant or relaxed reactions. This is primarily accomplished through positive association. Every time you leave the house offer your pet a puzzle toy with food hidden inside or a Kong filled with tasty treats like low-fat cream cheese, peanut butter, or frozen bananas.
If anxious behavior persists, designate a few weekends (or more) to working on separation behavior. Try taking short breaks from your pet and build to longer periods of absence, and start desensitizing them to your departure cues. While working on separation time, help the dog become comfortable with your departure cues. Before pet owners leave they give hints that they’re going by shaking keys or putting on your shoes. Take these cues repeat them throughout the day without leaving. This shows your pet that just because your picking up keys, it doesn’t mean your leaving. This will help become less anxious when they notice these cues. Before you go, continue leaving them with tasty treats, toys, and puzzles.
Some dogs are highly anxious and will require professional assistance with separation anxiety. At It’s A Dog’s World, we have a highly trained staff that can help you combat these behaviors so you can get back to enjoying a wonderful relationship. Visit www.ItsADogsWorld.biz for more information and to book a free consultation.