There are many types of fears and anxieties that your pet may experience in their lifetime. One type of anxiety is separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is the fear of being alone. This can cause your dog to show undesirable behaviors while you are away and cause them personal stress. Behavioral problems associated with separation anxiety can include, but are not limited to: excessive barking, whining, destruction, digging, pacing, accidents in the house, drooling or hyperactivity. These behaviors could be a reaction to the stress of being alone and the uncertainty of your return. A pet can develop this type of anxiety at any point in their life. Possible causes could be a change in routine, major life event (new baby, death of family member, etc.), traumatic event or an underlying medical condition. When dealing with true separation anxiety it involves many factors and patience. It is important to remember that no two dogs or cats are the same. What works for one pet may not work for another pet.
Sometimes pets are misdiagnosed with separation anxiety when it is simply boredom. A pet that is bored can display some of the same behaviors. Many of the following tips can also help to provide enrichment for bored dogs, so keep reading. Sometimes videotaping your pet for a week or two on a video camera while you’re away can help you or the veterinarian interpret the behavior. You can possibly learn your pet’s triggers and also see what behaviors they are displaying while you are away. This may help to understand where the behavior is coming from and choose which course of treatment may be beneficial for your pet.
Sometimes pets can benefit from behavior modification alone, while others need additional help from medications. In many cases one needs to use a combination of things to be most successful. Fitting your dog with a Thundershirt is a great starting place. Training and exercise can be a good way to burn off any excess energy. Keep in mind that a tired dog is a good dog. Making time to train your pet can help build that pet’s confidence and this will in turn make them more confident while they are alone.
An anxious pet can get into a lot of trouble if left to free range in a house and cause potential physical harm to themselves. If crate trained, this will help keep them safe while you’re away. A crate is a great tool that should serve as their den. It should be a happy, safe place to retreat. An alternative to a crate is giving them a puppy proof room.
The area you choose can also be treated with Pheromones such as Adaptil. Pheromones can help ease pets’ fear and anxiety when left alone. They come in sprays, diffusers and collars. One can also use a combination of white noise machines and doggy music such as, Through a Dog’s Ear, to drown out the noise of the outside world, all while keeping your pet calm. Often times pets hear a familiar sound outside and they interpret it as their owner returning home, while really it is just the neighbor’s car horn. When you do not appear this increases their anxiety.
This safe place can also be filled with fun activities for your pet to occupy their time while you are away. Puzzle toys and food dispensing toys can be a great tool and can serve as a “security blanket” while you’re away. Giving your pet a security blanket such as a favorite toy is a great way to help pets pass the time. If they really enjoy this special thing, then they will learn they only get it when they are alone and therefore they better enjoy that special thing while you are away because they lose access to it while you are home.
Skipping breakfast and giving your pet their breakfast through a puzzle toy or a food dispensing toy can be a great challenge. This will help keep them occupied and help them pass time. Puzzle toys come in all shapes and sizes. Giving your pet an easy, medium and difficult toy is best. Freezing these puzzle toys, like a frozen KONG, will ensure that it takes longer for them to empty the toy.
Often times trainers will recommend using mock departures as a training tool. Leave your pet for short periods of time and gradually increase the duration of time that they are being left alone. Make these departures longer as your dog gains confidence.
These tips may be helpful if your dog is experiencing separation anxiety in many cases. If needed, your local veterinarian can help diagnose and manage separation anxiety. If you need additional support, there are DVM behaviorists that one can be referred to as well.
Amanda Siciliano & Dr. Jessica Murphy
Stow Kent Animal Hospital, Portage Animal Clinic, Stow Falls Pet Clinic