Most of us have experienced the unmistakable yearn to be with our pooch. Some of us even go as far as canceling plans because we’d rather be home with our four-legged besties. And while being away from our pets is hard for us, imagine how hard it is for them.
Our dogs have no day jobs, no college friends, no extended family to visit. We are everything to them. They would cancel any and all plans to spend time with us. So when we are away, it is no surprise that many pooches find themselves struggling with separation anxiety.
But dealing with a stressed-out pet isn’t easy, which is why we’re here to help. We’ll walk you through what separation anxiety is, how it can affect your dog and some helpful ways to combat the condition.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is exactly what it sounds like. It’s anxiety experienced by a pet or human when they are separated from the person or people that make them feel safe and loved.
What are the Symptoms of Separation Anxiety?
If your dog has separation anxiety, they basically freak out when you leave - for a lack of better terminology.
Some common symptoms include:
Urinating or defecating indoors
Attempting to escape
Barking, yelping or howling
Overexcitement when you leave and/or return
The presence of any or all of these symptoms does not necessarily mean your pet is experiencing separation anxiety. If any of these behaviors take place when you are home, they likely are not caused by anxiety. The biggest indicator of separation anxiety is behavior that is out of character.
Remember: Always consult your vet to discuss any behavioral changes to first rule out any potential underlying medical conditions.
What causes separation anxiety?
Unfortunately, a definite cause of separation anxiety has not been discovered. There seems to be some dogs that are affected and some that are not. It can be developed over time with environmental changes or it can be with your pup from birth, as a part of their personality.
While veterinary professionals aren’t entirely sure what causes separation anxiety, they do know there are certain events that make the condition more likely. The biggest potential cause of separation anxiety in dogs is a major change in their environment. This includes things such as a new guardian, a new home, another pet, a new family member or even just a new schedule.
Dogs cannot understand the changes that are taking place around them, even if they are harmless. So these changes can instill fear in your pup.
How can you treat separation anxiety?
Treating separation anxiety can be complex; it depends greatly on the dog's personality and the cause of the anxiety. If you’ve recently had a new change in your day-to-day life, it is likely the cause, so a good first step is to take measures to reassure your pup that you still love them and that they are safe.
For example, if the change in your life is a new baby - congratulations, by the way - the solution can be as simple as making a point to pay more attention to your dog for the first few weeks to show them that they are not being replaced by your new bundle of joy.
If you aren’t aware of any recent changes that could be bothering your pet, here are some common solutions that may be worth a try.
Provide treats and toys. Pick up a treat, toy or bone for your pet to enjoy only while you are away. This may seem counterintuitive to reward your dog for misbehaving while you are away by giving them a special toy for when you leave, but it isn’t.
Your dog isn’t acting out, they are scared. Providing your dog with a new toy or a few treats to entertain them while you are out will help them start to associate being alone with positive feelings; thus reducing or eliminating their anxiety.
Offer calming supplements. This should be done with the supervision of your vet. Offer your dog some calming supplements. There are countless calming treats on the market that may be able to help relax your dog enough to not stress out when you leave.
Play cool. When leaving and returning home, don’t make a big deal about it. We all love to say goodbye to our dogs, but if we have an anxious pup, making a big deal about leaving could add to the issue. Leave in a calm, uneventful fashion and return much of the same way. This can help your pet understand that you leave and return all the time, and it is no big deal.
Leave out a piece of you. If the cause for the anxiety is that your dog is missing you too much, consider leaving out an article of your clothing. It works best if the clothes smell like you. It sounds too simple and a little silly, but for some dogs, it’s all they need to hang in there until you return.
Here’s what we know about separation anxiety; we know it is common in dogs, we know it’s typically caused by changes to routines, and we know that it can be hard to deal with. It’s tough to watch your pet go through something you can’t help them understand. Something as simple as us leaving to go to work can be devastating for our pets.
The good news is that with the help of your vet, some routine examination, and clever tricks, separation anxiety is very manageable. The important thing to remember is that your dog is not misbehaving to defy you; they’re simply emotionally overwhelmed when you’re gone. Remember to see things from their perspective and maybe give some extra tummy rubs tonight.
Do you have any separation anxiety tips that work for you and your dog? Share in the comments!