Separation Anxiety in Dogs

September 2, 2014
hello world!

It is the end of summer! Children are heading back to school and vacations are over for another year. Some dogs experience separation anxiety when the fun is over, since they are so use to having someone with them almost 24 hours in a day.

Well, what exactly is separation anxiety in dogs and why does it happen? Is there anything that can be done or to prevent this from occurring?

In nature, dogs are almost never away from their pack. It is our job to help make this unnatural situation less stressful!

iStock_12There is a difference between fear and anxiety.

Fear is the instinctual feeling of apprehension resulting from a situation, person, or object presenting an external threat. When you discover which one of these traits your pet is experiencing, you pick a treatment method to work on with your pet. If you are not sure what they are feeling, you can always go to your Veterinarian for a more formal diagnosis.

Anxiety, meanwhile, is the anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined origins that result in normal body reactions associated with fear. Most common visible behaviors in pets are elimination urination and/or passage of bowel movements, destruction, and excessive vocalization barking, crying. Separation anxiety is the most common specific anxiety in companion dogs. When alone, the animal exhibits anxiety or excessive distress behaviors.

There are different types of anxiety ranging from mild separation anxiety to moderate to severe separation anxiety.

Methods of Treatment:

  • Medications: Veterinarians have a wide variety of medications to help treat and sometimes solve separation anxiety.
  • Counter-conditioning: is a treatment process that changes an animal’s fearful, anxious or aggressive reaction to a pleasant, relaxed one instead. It’s done by associating the sight or presence of a feared or disliked person, animal, place, object or situation with something really good, something the animal loves. For example: if your pet is anxious every time you leave to go to work or school if you give them a treat they will start to associate you leaving with a good thing. Every time you go to leave, they will pick up that it is time for a treat and you leaving is not a bad thing. (Please get a treats meant for training your pet that are low in fat! We don't want to make weight gain another issue in the future!)
  • Crate Training: can be helpful for some dogs if they learn that the crate is their safe place to go when left alone. However, for other dogs, the crate can cause added stress and anxiety. In order to determine whether or not you should try using a crate, monitor your dog’s behavior during crate training and when he’s left in the crate while you’re home. But as said, it is not for every pet.
  • Exercise: Just like with people, sometimes outdoor activities can relieve stress and anxiety. Take your pet out for a 30min to 1 hour walk before leaving them or even simply play with them for a short time before leaving. Even playing with them again when you come back can encourage good behavior. They will start to remember that when you come back, its play time!

What not to do:

  • Do not scold or punish your dog. Anxious behaviors are not the result of disobedience or spite. They are distress responses! Your dog displays anxious behaviors when left alone because he’s upset and trying to cope with  stress. If you punish him, he may become even more upset and the problem could get worse.

In the end you need to find out what will work for your dog. This can take some time and even multiple tries before solving this issue. Be patient with your pet and in the end will be rewarding and a less anxious best friend.

If have any questions or concerns about anxiety you can always contact your veterinarian for further advice. Our staff will be glad to support you on your journey to helping your pet achieve a less stressful life.