Who would be pleased to come home from every outing to find that their dog has soiled on the carpet, or chewed up the cushions on the couch?
What's NOT Separation Anxiety!
It's important to recognize what isn't dog separation anxiety.
- It is not your dog going to the toilet on the floor because he has been left inside for too long and just can't hold on any longer.
- It's not your puppy chewing on shoes when you are out because he is bored and teething.
- It is also not your dog barking when someone walks past your front fence.
Separation anxiety is a panic condition that can actually be fatal – many dogs are euthanized or given up to shelters because their owners can no longer cope with their behavior.
Risk Factors for Separation Anxiety
There is no specific reason why a dog develops this condition, but there are several risk factors that may make him more likely to become anxious when left alone.
Early Puppy Adoption
A study has shown that if you adopt a puppy from a pet store, you may be more likely to deal with anxiety issues. This is thought to be because the pup didn't get the opportunity to stay with his litter mates until the optimal age of 8 weeks.
If a dog has a traumatic experience (in his eyes) such as a stay in a veterinary hospital or a boarding kennel, or some other stressful separation from his owner, he may develop anxiety about being left alone.
Adoption from Shelter
Dogs from shelters may also have separation anxiety according to one study. However, it's not known if the dogs developed anxiety in the shelter, or whether they were actually given up by their owners because of an anxiety disorder.
Single Member Households
A dog that lives in a household with only one human family member is more likely to be anxious than one who lives in a multi-person home. This is thought to occur because he forms an extremely close bond with that one person, leading to greater distress when they leave.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
There is no blood test or other diagnostic tool that can tell you if your dog has separation anxiety. This condition is one that is diagnosed purely on your dog's history and behavior.
The main feature is that your dog is extremely anxious each and every time you leave him alone. In severe cases, you can't even go to the bathroom without your dog crying at the closed door.
Symptoms of dog anxiety usually start when you are preparing to leave home.
- As you put your shoes on and pick up your keys, your dog may start pacing the floor, salivating and panting heavily.
- When you leave, he may bark and howl excessively and during the period you are gone, he might scratch at doors, tear up cushions and chew anything left on the floor.
- His distress often makes him defecate and urinate on the floor.
The degree of damage to your home can vary. One Staffordshire Bull Terrier with severe anxiety was known to scratch the paint off the car in the garage and chew the number plate into pieces. Other dogs bite and chew at wooden doors, resulting in bleeding mouths and feet.
A Little Surveillance Can Be Revealing
If you're not sure if your dog's behavior is anxiety related or whether he is just bored, set up a video camera in your home and catch him in action. You'll be able to tell if he is pacing, or if he barks for hours, or if he is just unsettled for a little while then relaxes until your return.
It is absolutely critical that you don't punish your dog for his behavior while you are out. He isn't doing it deliberately, he is doing it out of sheer panic. Getting angry when you return home will increase his anxiety and won't do anything to change his behavior in future.
Get Help! – See the Vet
Separation anxiety in dogs can make life absolutely miserable for them and their family. If you suspect your dog has issues with this, then have him evaluated by your vet straight away.
It should not surprise you to learn that medication or drug treatment for your dog is available that can reduce his anxiety and help him to cope better with the times he has to spend without you.