Separation anxiety is one of the most common problems dogs and dog parents face. Many pet parents may notice separation anxiety occurs when they leave their dog alone and come back to the house being destroyed. Dogs may urinate, defecate, chew, howl or dig in an attempt to escape and return to their pet parent. Pet parents may notice signs of anxiety as they begin to leave the home as well. How can you ease their anxiety? They need to be taught to at minimum, tolerate, being left alone but we do our best to ensure they are happy while you are out running errands or at work.
Prior to treating a dog for a behavioral issue, they should be examined by a veterinarian to rule out any type of medical diagnosis. If your dog is urinating in the house, for example, they should be checked for urinary incontinence. Dogs who experience urinary incontinence often have no idea they have even urinated inside the home and will not understand if they are scolded for doing so. Your dog may experience urinary incontinence due to number of reasons including but not limited to a urinary tract infection, bladder stones or kidney disease.
Medication may also result in urinary incontinence or soiling the home. Is your dog currently taking any medications? If so, you should ask your veterinarian if incontinence is one of the side effects of the medication they are prescribed.
If all of the medical conditions are checked by your veterinarian, you may then move to behavior modification treatment. If you dog has a mild form of separation anxiety, you should first try counterconditioning. You do this by associating you leaving with something enjoyable. For example, you could leave a Kong with his favorite food stuffed in it to allow him to associate you leaving with his Kong. You should also ensure you do not make leaving a big deal. Do not have a long goodbye process as you are walking out the door- this results in your dog believing you leaving is an extreme event.
If your dog is facing a severe case of separation anxiety, you should begin treating her separation anxiety by going to a different room as you treat it rather than leaving the home completely. You should first try very brief sessions of separation. As you notice improvement, make these sessions longer in time and further away from you dog. Most anxious responses will occur in the first 40 minutes. You may attempt leaving the home once your dog progresses through the first 40 minutes successfully.
It is important never to scold or punish your dog for experiencing a separation anxiety issue. Their behavior is not a result of spite but stress. Punishing your dog for experiencing separation anxiety will likely only make the problem worse and will damage the bond you have with your dog.
If you are having any trouble with separation anxiety and do not know where or how to begin, please contact a canine behaviorist to assist you in the process. The canine behaviorist will develop a behavior modification plan to assist you in resolving the separation anxiety. It is important to remember some dogs are not able to overcome their separation anxiety which is where doggy daycare comes in. Many pet parents choose to drop their dogs off at a doggy daycare throughout the day to ease their anxiety and provide them with an enjoyable experience while they are running errands or working throughout the day.