One of the most difficult facts of pet ownership is the lack of communication between owner and pet. While the parent of a human child feels frustration in the early months of their child’s life, struggling to understand a crying baby’s needs, pet owners know that there is never going to be a time in their pet’s life when they speak up and state in plain English what is bothering them.
Such is the fate of a dog owner though. As owners, individuals will face a number of communication issues. Some of these will be simple to understand, such as the need for food, water, or the bathroom. The vast majority of dogs will hover around their food and water dish or bark for attention. When it comes to the bathroom, most dogs can be found pawing at or sitting patiently next to the door in hopes of going outside.
How do owners deal with the emotional distress of a dog though? Separation anxiety is one of the most common stressors in a dog’s life, but can be hard to identify at times and even harder to solve. Separation anxiety in dogs is not only very taxing on the mental health of a dog, but it can often be a sign of greater distress in their life.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), separation anxiety can arise from the slightest of changes in a dog’s daily routine. Dogs, like humans, quickly become accustomed to certain routines. When that routine changes, dogs can begin to exhibit a number of warning signs that they are enduring emotional distress.
The root cause of separation anxiety can be as simple as a poor association with being alone, or as complex as an underlying health issue. As the ASPCA points out, many dogs suffer from separation anxiety because they have a poor association with being left home alone. Dogs are social, pack animals that depend upon the presence of others to maintain a happy mental balance. When that balance is disrupted by an owner’s absence it induces a state of fear, panic, and/or nervousness in the dog.
Other root causes for separation anxiety in dogs include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Change of ownership: Being adopted into a new family and new environment, especially following abandonment, can be stressful and induce separation anxiety.
- Change in Residence: Simply moving to a new home, especially after an extended period in a familiar environment, can be stressful.
- Change in Household Makeup: Sometimes separation anxiety can occur with changing membership in the home. A beloved teen leaving for college or a couple going through a divorce could trigger separation anxiety in a dog as the makeup of his pack changes.
For simpler cases of separation anxiety, owners can help their dogs overcome the fear and panic by changing the mental association the dog has with being left alone. The most common approach for this is to have owners leave a treat for their pooch every time they leave the house.
This will help the dog begin to associate alone time with something positive, in this case a treat. The manner in which the owner tackles this can vary. It can be done as simply as handing them a big treat that will take a while to consume, giving the owner time to leave and reminding the dog that a tasty treat will always be coming when their master is away. Other options include leaving a treat dispensing toy. This not only conditions the dog to associate treats with alone time, but also gives them a sense of purpose in working to earn that treat by playing with the toy.
Deeper Issues including Health Problems
The ASPCA does make the effort to point out to dog owners that there could be an underlying health issue that is truly at the root of separation anxiety and the behavior of a dog. Many dogs will exhibit issues with bladder and bowel control in the absence of their owner, leading many to assume that the issue is simply separation anxiety.
While it is possible to have separation anxiety play into the situation, it is also possible that a dog could have an underlying health issues that is masked or even exacerbated by separation anxiety. Owners who are consistently finding puddles of urine or defecation in the house upon returning, shouldn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that separation anxiety is the only issue.
These owners would be well advised, according to the ASPCA, to take their dog into the vet to rule out other factors that could be negatively impacting their dog’s health. Possible causes that could lead to bladder and bowel control issues include urinary tract infections, bladder stones, diabetes, or even kidney disease. Any one of these health issues could cause incontinence and be exacerbated by separation anxiety.
Dealing with Separation Anxiety
Fortunately, there is a path to a happier life during alone time for the vast majority of dogs. Aside from reconditioning them to find the joy (or at least tolerate) their time alone, there are a variety of other steps that dog owners can take to help improve the mental health of their pets and relieve even the most severe separation anxiety.
Noted dog behavior specialist Cesar Milan has used his Discovery Channel show to provide pet owners with a myriad of useful tips and advice for helping dogs and owners overcome a variety of issues. He can offer up some simple, yet effective, tips for conquering separation anxiety. Consider the five following tips:
1. Take the dog for a walk before leaving to work off some of their energy before leaving them alone.
2. Say goodbye well in advance of leaving. Set aside a few moments to show the dog affection, but do not do it as part of the “out the door” routine.
3. Stay calm and in control. If the owner is a nervous wreck before leaving the dog alone, the dog will likely sense that emotional distress and carry it on themselves.
4. Don’t jump in the deep end right away. Start out with small absences from the room and the house before leaving the dog alone for several hours on end.
5. Finally, don’t make a big spectacle out of leaving the house. Once a goodbye has been said in advance of leaving, don’t make any final contact with the dog. Simply collect the keys and any bags and walk out the door.
Separation anxiety in dogs medication & Solutions
Separation anxiety in dogs is not anyone’s fault. It is not a sign of poor ownership and bad guidance from the human, and it is not a sign of willful disobedience from the dog. It is a simple matter of emotional stress in an animal that a human cannot always pick up on immediately. Worst of all, the dog has no way of communicating its stress verbally to its owner.
One of the most important things to remember is to remain calm. Do not become enraged if the dog doesn’t show immediate improvement or continues destructive behaviors. Remember, they aren’t wilfully disobeying anyone. They are frightened and scared, and anger will only make it worse. A calm approach to the situation will help the dog overcome its separation anxiety and create a greater bond between owner and pet.