Separation anxiety in dogs
Does your dog panic when you leave the house? For many dog owners, separation anxiety is a serious issue.
One of the most difficult things for a dog to do is separate himself from his owner. Dogs are pack animals and were bred to be with other dogs and humans.
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, he is experiencing a panic attack. His cortisol levels are rising. He has no control over this condition. All he knows is that his pack leader and owner (you) are gone. He doesn’t understand you will be back.
Some dogs develop separation anxiety because they have been placed in shelters by previous owners or taken away from their litter too early in life. If your dog was abandoned or bounced around from home to home before you adopted him, he fears he will be abandoned again when you leave for work.
Some of your dog’s symptoms might include constant barking, whining or howling after you leave the house, pacing or panting, destroying the doors, furniture, plants, dog crate, or eliminating inside your home.
If your dog has separation anxiety, he exhibits these behaviors every time you leave the house and only when you are not present. “Dogs are very smart and pick up on departure cues right away. They can see when you putting on your shoes and picking up your keys,” says dog trainer Yuruani Olguin, who is certified by the Animal Behavior College, and who provides private in-home training sessions, and group training classes for dogs in New York City. “Your dog has learned your exit cues, and can even start to panic before you depart.”
Although it takes a bit of persistent training, you can help your dog eliminate the anxiety. Exercise is the key. Walk your dog in the morning before you leave the house, hire a dog walker for a midday walk, and make sure you take your dog out again when you return home in the evening.
When you have a tired dog, he is calm, and in a resting state. You can then apply the rule that he has to stay in his area or on his dog bed with his toys while you get ready to leave. “Teach him to go to his place, which is a really comfortable area, preferably far away from you in your home, and settle there, and entertain himself. Place special toys nearby, which offer sufficient mental and physical stimulation,” says Olguin. Kongs stuffed with peanut butter or cheese, interactive toys, and soft music playing will help your dog stay occupied and relaxed.
“A calm exit on your part is also essential,” adds Olguin. “If you feel guilty or show the dog that you are upset about leaving, the dog will pick up your own anxiety and feel worse.”
Olguin also recommends purchasing a nanny cam. "Exit for a few minutes and watch your dog’s behavior. Is he exhibiting signs of distress, or does he eventually settle down? When you are at home, build his confidence by creating distance between yourself and your dog so he knows that being away from you can be very rewarding."
Separation anxiety training initially may be discouraging because you may not see immediate results. Progress is incremental. Jot down the dog’s progress daily so you can see the success of a long-term behavior modification program.
Training a dog to overcome separation anxiety can take weeks or months, but persistence and positive reinforcement are keys to success. If you need further guidance, I recommend you contact a certified dog trainer or your veterinarian.