Separation anxiety can affect any dog, regardless of breed, but dogs that have experienced lots of change or instability in their early life can be more susceptible to developing this behavioural problem. Separation anxiety can be frustrating for you and your dog, and dogs often communicate their anxiety using destructive behaviour. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for separation anxiety in dogs:
Your dog may display the following symptoms if they have separation anxiety:
- Barking when you leave
- Ripping, biting or scratching furniture and flooring while you're gone
- Low mood, which can become more pronounced during periods when you're gone more often than normal
- Intense excitement as soon as they see you, which often leads to them barking and jumping
Your vet will determine whether your dog is experiencing separation anxiety by taking a detailed account of their behaviour. You can help your vet by keeping a log of your dog's behaviour when you leave and return, how long you were away for and any symptoms they have that don't seem to be related to separation anxiety. This can help them diagnose your dog faster and help shape your dog's treatment plan. They may also arrange a blood test, which can rule out other conditions that may cause dogs to display similar symptoms, such as a tumour.
Treatment for separation anxiety focuses on reducing the feelings of fear and abandonment your dog is experiencing when you leave, as these feelings are causing the destructive behaviours your dog is engaging in. Your vet may initially prescribe some medication to reduce your dog's anxiety, but this is not a long-term solution to the problem.
You might be referred to an animal behaviourist who will spend time getting to know your dog and gently redirecting their behaviour and focus in a more positive direction. They will help your dog understand some time apart from you is normal and can also be a pleasant experience for them. The behaviourist will show you how to get your dog excited about short periods of time on their own by using special toys they don't get at any other time and restricting treats to puzzle toys. Your dog has to spend time working to get the treats out of these toys, and this will keep them busy and focused on something they enjoy.
Desensitisation is also used, and this technique can prevent your dog becoming anxious before you've even left the house. You'll have to commit to regularly working through some set exercises with them, such as putting your jacket on several times a day as if you were about to leave the house and gradually working toward leaving the house for a few minutes and returning to your dog. This helps your dog understand you will come back, and they're less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviours while you're gone if they can remain calm when you are getting ready to leave the house.
It can take some time to successfully treat separation anxiety, but addressing the issue will improve your dog's quality of life. If you think your dog may be experiencing separation anxiety, schedule veterinary consultations to discuss the issues.Share