Separation Anxiety in Dogs and How to Deal With It

Dog with separation anxiety

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If you have been spending time with your dog, he may experience separation anxiety when you leave home him alone for long periods. The level of anxiety may vary from one dog to another. Generally, dogs become nervous and exhibit their nervousness differently, especially when you change their residences or move houses. If you have transferred him to a kennel or other boarding facility, he will have some separation anxiety. In addition, he will not want to be alone especially when suffering trauma during and after illness or injury. You can tell evident anxiety upon the death of a family member, another dog or pet.

Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

When he seems worried as you leave him, your dog is perhaps anxious. If he follows you from place to place when you return home, it is a clear indication that he missed you. Some common signs of separation anxiety include destroying stuff, he eyeing you suspiciously as you prepare to leave and behaving aggressively when you return home.
The presence of familiar sounds and sights will also cause your dog to behave differently. The following are indications of dog separation anxiety.

• Repeated or aggressive barking, whining and howling
• Scratching or digging at surfaces
• Attempting to urinate or defecate when you come back
• Trying to escape a confined area
• Pacing in a certain pattern along the path
• Consuming all or some of his excrement

Conditioning to Treat Dog Separation Anxiety

Counter-conditioning may be suitable if your dog experiences mild separation anxiety. This process involves changing his anxious, fearful and aggressive behaviour to become more pleasant and relaxed. Start associating something fearful with something good. This helps him understand that the fearful stimulus leads to a reward such as a meal or a snack.
If your dog dreads the time you leave him alone, give him a snack such as frozen banana, spray cheese, cream cheese, kibble, peanut butter or some canned dog food. Frozen food will take him nearly 30 minutes to finish and effectively keeps him busy. Toys are also suitable. Remove all food and toys from his vicinity when you return home.

Treating Pre-departure Anxiety

When you pick up your coat and car keys, your dog knows that you are ready to leave. This is referred to as pre-departure anxiety. Treat this by pretending to be leaving only to hand around your dog. Pick up your coat, car keys and wear your shoes as if leaving. Go up to the gate and then come back into the house.
If you do this several times in a day for several days, the dog knows that these cues do not necessarily mean your departure. With time, you will remove the pre-departure anxiety from your dog’s mind. These procedures are somewhat cumbersome, but you have to observe them if you really care for your pet.

Graduated Absences or Departures

This procedure is meant for dogs that are less anxious when you leave. The objective here is to plan your absence to be so short that you are back before your dog is stressed. This sounds like playing hide-and-seek with him. When the dog is in an out-of-sight zone, walk away and return 10 minutes later with a treat.
Repeat this procedure severally, increasing the duration of your absence. The more you increase the period of your absence, the better the conditioning you give your dog. You can leave him something to keep him busy such as a stuffed toy. Ensure that he is completely relaxed and then leave him again.

Leave Him Exhausted

If your dog is ill or injured, his emotions will be aggravated when you leave him alone. Talk to a certified dog vet or handler for proper treatment and training. When you are away, ensure that the pet has enough mental and physical conditioning. Consider making exhausted just before you leave, so that he spends his time alone sleeping and resting.
A 30-minute aerobic activity is ideal just before leaving. Running and swimming are perhaps the best aerobic exercises. Fetch, tug-of-war and other interactive games are ideal to keep him happy and entertained. During your daily walking routine, use different routes to help him explore unprecedented sounds and sights.

Give Him Puzzle Toys

Allow your dog to play with his canine counterparts if he likes them. If there is no danger, remove his leash so that he may play freely. When you are away, let him play with chew items and puzzle toys. These items are suitable to calm him down as he vents his anger on them through chewing and licking.
Whenever you have time, involve the dog in dog sports such as flyball, agility and freestyle. To increase his physical and mental activity, hide several piles of his kibble in strategic places around your house or yard. Let him hunt for these meals while you are away. As dogs love this game, he might actually look forward to your leaving!

Use a Pet Sitter

A pet sitter or dog walker can be of great help in this situation. Instead of leaving your dog in a kennel or boarding facility, your pup will stay home in his own environment, which can significantly reduce anxiety.

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