Separation Anxiety is a term used to describe a condition where a dog becomes emotionally distraught when separated from a specific person or persons, or when he/she is left alone (1). This can be mild, moderate or so severe that a dog self injures. I've personally lived with two dogs who had severe separation anxiety and I can't even begin to describe the heart ache that it causes the family and the dog.
Prevention is always the best medicine when it comes to behaviour problems. Some simple steps to keep in mind are not making a big deal out of your coming and going from the home. Your dog shouldn't think that this is a big deal but simply a matter of course on a daily basis. Leave your dog something to do like an interactive toy to play with (stuffed Kong, Tricky Treat Ball or Buster Cube). And exercise your dog before a prolonged period of time away.
A great read on preventing separation anxiety is I'll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell. You can order this book from Dogwise Publishing. It has steps for treating separation anxiety as well and can be useful to those of you dealing with the mild form of this issue.
Dogs suffering from moderate to severe anxiety will present with house soiling, uncontrollable barking/howling, destructive behaviour, drooling, panting, pacing, self injuring, etc. It is important to get advice from a professional about whether your dog has separation anxiety or is merely bored when left alone. This behaviour issue is often misdiagnosed by owners when a dog destroys objects in the house or amuses himself/herself by barking. A video camera or web camera can help show the true story about what goes on when you're away.
If you are experiencing separation anxiety then it's important to contact an Animal Behaviourist (if possible) or a Dog Trainer with experience resolving this issue. You will also need to consult your Veterinarian as dogs suffering from this issue often need medication while behaviour modification is taking place.
A newly released book by Certified Pet Dog Trainer Nicole Wilde called Don't Leave Me! is a great resource for dog owners who are struggling with this issue. It is also available through Dogwise Publishing. This book outlines how to create a custom plan for your dog and put it in action.
Sadly separation anxiety isn't always curable so plans should be made for petsitters, dog daycare and friends/family who can help. It can take months to years to get your dog to a healthy state even with assistance from a professional. Dogs with this issue need to slowly be desensitized to being alone which takes a large commitment from the owner. Don't be disheartened as many dogs do improve with positive reinforcement, love and patience.
Please be aware that adding another dog to the home often does not help with this issue. Sometimes the anxiety can even be passed over to the new dog.
Some great products that can help with separation anxiety include:
- Through A Dog's Ear CD
- Thunder Shirt
- Interactive Toys such as Kong, Tricky Treat Ball & Buster Cube
- Dog Appeasement Pheromone Collar or Spray (Available from your Veterinarian)
1. Wilde, Nicole. Don't Leave Me: Step by Step Help For Your Dog's Separation Anxiety. Phantom Publishing, 2010.