We bring pets into our homes because we want a new friend. We want someone to hang out on the couch and binge-watch our favorite shows with us. We want someone to take that five-mile hike by our side. Did you know, though, that spending every waking minute with the new four-legged love of your life can be detrimental to their mental health?
Of course, this isn’t to say that all dogs do not handle constant human companionship with ease. Some dogs thrive on the attention of their human and do just fine when they are left to their own devices now and again. For other dogs, being left alone might as well be the end of the world.
These anxious canines suffer from what is known as separation anxiety. The condition can be stressful for your pooch and may mean having to replace destroyed objects — or renovate an entire room, in the worst cases. The good news is two-fold. First, not every dog suffers from separation anxiety as much as the next.
Second, there are steps you can take to address separation anxiety in all dogs. Learning how to recognize the signs of separation anxiety in your best friend is the first step, and it’s imperative if you hope for your dog to live a happy, emotionally-stable life.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
Like any other type of anxiety, this kind is marked by nervous energy and stress. The anxiety may cause your dog to behave in unthought-of ways simply in an effort to calm himself down. Your normally sedate pet can turn into a drywall-loving Landshark when separation anxiety takes hold.
Anxiety can also lead to timidity, problematic behaviors, or even health problems if left unchecked. Always take notice of behaviors that might be connected with separation anxiety, and don’t hesitate to take steps to soothe and address them when these behaviors are cause for concern.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
It’s not currently known or understood why one dog will develop separation anxiety and another will not. There are no breeds predisposed to the condition, no gender that is more likely to develop the condition, and no indication that the adorable puppy you bring home will turn into an anxious animal.
What we do know is that separation anxiety kicks in when a guardian leaves. This may mean leaving home for hours at a time, or it could be something as simple as walking away from the vehicle, leaving your pet behind. Any separation from their guardian can send some dogs into a tailspin — no pun intended.
How Do Guardians Recognize The Condition?
Separation anxiety can begin in such a way that it is barely noticeable. In other dogs, it manifests very severely right from the start. Here are signs of the condition that you may recognize in your dog:
- Licking paws
- Eating blankets/towels/other objects
- Destroying objects
- Going to the bathroom in the house
More-severe forms of separation anxiety can lead to other signs. The pet may exhibit unusual behaviors when the guardian returns, such as jumping or excited urination. They may also develop long-term symptoms, such as generalized anxiety, a refusal to eat (anorexia), or escaping from the confines of the home.
It’s been said that these behaviors occur, or at least begin, within the first 20 minutes of a guardian leaving their anxious dog behind. Your pet may exhibit one of these symptoms by itself or display several. Each dog is unique and so is its level of stress when left on its own.
Is There A Way To Calm Your Dog?
One of the best things you can do is to help your dog gain some self-confidence. Interactive puzzle toys that your dog has to solve by herself will build independence. You can easily find treat dispensers, food puzzles, and even stuffed toy puzzles. Think of ways your dog will need to use its brain. Mental exercises can be more tiring and calming than physical ones.
These activities not only occupy your dog’s mind, but they can also counter condition it to associate the separation with positive things: treats and stimulation.
Something else to think about: some of the anxiety can come from the thought of having to be the protector of such a large space. Not only did you leave your pup on his own, but you’ve unknowingly tasked him with the responsibility of keeping the whole house safe. In these cases, crate training your dog and providing them with a den of their own when you leave can help ease their stress.
Lastly, try to remember that your dog is an animal and not a tiny human. Behaviors you may think are calming or supportive may actually deepen the level of attachment the dog has. They may also feel rewarded for their anxious behaviors with the attention they craved.
Dogs that experience separation anxiety lack confidence. Talking to this type of dog like a baby is never a good idea. Likewise, carrying them everywhere you go, allowing them to behave in any way they wish, and generally treating them like a small child can do more harm than good.
The best thing you can do if your dog experiences anxiety when she is apart from you is to make her feel empowered. In other words — your dog needs a confidence boost. Physical and mental exercise, coupled with activities that promote independence, can help your stressed-out dog feel better about life.
You can also work together to re-condition your dog to time spent alone. You can also desensitize them. For instance, your dog may get anxious simply because you’ve picked up your keys or put on boots. If you randomly do these activities at times but do not leave, the exercise can teach them that you’re not always about to leave when you do them. You can also try taking shorter trips. If your dog is accustomed to being left for hours at a time every day, teaching them that you will sometimes come back quicker than they assumed can be a healthy refresher.
Severe separation anxiety must be dealt with using applied animal behavior specialists or a certified professional dog trainer, in most instances. You and the trainer will work together to understand cues, determine which reactions are triggered when, and build towards greater trust and self-confidence when the dog is left alone.
We Can Help Ease Your Dog’s Anxiety
At Greenlin Pet Resorts, we have all experienced separation in our own pets or those we love. It’s never easy watching what should be a confident animal destroy property and become physically ill because of their level of stress. We are here to offer your pet a safe place to spend the day, the weekend, or the week.
Our staff is highly trained and, of course, each meets our main requirement: must love dogs! That means that you can trust us to keep your pet happy and active when you can’t. Whether you are going to work or taking the trip of a lifetime, our dog daycare offers your pooch a home away from home.
Dog daycare or boarding is not a long-term fix for severe separation anxiety, even though it can help. For these cases, it may be best to attend dog training courses where you and your dog learn together in order to build a care plan that addresses the anxiety your pet is experiencing. In the most severe cases, where our trainers are unable to address the level of anxiety felt, we can recommend specialists to work with — and then we can support you in your training regimen with tailored classes as well as daycare time spent among furry friends.
Call us today at a dog daycare and dog training facility near you or schedule a visit online. We are absolutely thrilled that you are considering our family to care for one of the most precious members of your own. Let us help you build your dog’s confidence through obedience training, brain games, and more. We are happy to provide you with more information about how we can assist you and your family.