Pets can often experience periods of heightened anxiety and stress, most especially in the absence of their guardians and usual playmates. Over the years, your dog has likely developed a close relationship with most any member of the household, and that closeness can trigger some big emotions for your furry friend when they are left alone. Every now and then, this general discomfort can develop into more pronounced separation anxiety, which can generate a lot of stress for your pet even when your absence is brief. If the time comes when your dog’s anxiety becomes excessive, prolonged, or destructive, then you may want to consider the possible causes, symptoms, and treatments for their patterns of behavior.
What Is the Cause?
As might be expected, separation anxiety is very often triggered by a substantial change in your dog’s environment. This change could be a new schedule or routine, or something as significant as relocating across the city or country. If your pet did not previously experience increased anxiety during your absence, then these new levels of stress are very likely connected to a sizable change in the status quo.
What Are the Signs?
Pets that are experiencing minor or major separation anxiety typically begin exhibiting signs of their behavior just before and just after your departure from the home. In many cases, excessive barking and howling will begin almost immediately, followed by aggressive and destructive behavior while you are away. What’s more, pets with separation anxiety will often urinate or defecate while their guardian is gone as a means of expressing and displaying their anxious emotions. In times of severe separation anxiety, pets will even begin conducting increasingly desperate and dangerous escape attempts, which can often lead to accidents and bodily harm.
While many of these symptoms can occur for a number of reasons, seeing them all together--or seeing them occur exclusively during your absence--is the hallmark of an overly anxious pup.
What Is the Treatment?
Separation anxiety isn’t an easy fix, as it connects your pet’s stressful emotions and routine disruptions with something you simply can’t avoid--leaving the house. Of course, there are still plenty of methods for treating separation anxiety, most of which involve a process called “counterconditioning”. Simply put, counterconditioning uses time and repetition to create a positive association with your leaving the house. In minor cases of anxiety, this can be done by simply leaving your dog a puzzle with a hidden treat inside each time you depart, causing them to develop a much more positive association with you grabbing your keys and preparing to leave. In more severe cases of anxiety, counterconditioning can be a much more involved and gradual approach, requiring professional guidance, a very organized schedule, and the possible use of a dog crate in providing a safe space for your pup.
If you need help in addressing these more acute instances of separation anxiety, you should seek out the help of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). When in doubt, you can ask your local vet for recommendations or contact information.