Separation anxiety is defined by Nicole Wilde as “the emotional distress experienced by a dog when separated from a particular person or persons”. My clients have described panting, drooling, destructive behavior, house soiling, escape behaviors that are sometimes self destructive, and more. Sometimes I am called while the behaviors are still mild and sometimes the behaviors can be very intense.
The best way to prevent separation anxiety is to raise a confident puppy. Many times, dog owners mistake co-dependency for love. It is important for your puppy or dog to spend time alone, while the owners are home and when they are not home and provide enriching and engaging outlets for self soothing. My favorite self soothing toy is the Kong. Please read my blog “Your Dog’s Babysitter” for recipes. In addition, creating enriching activities for your dog can be very helpful in building confidence. “Nosework” is one of my favorite activities for dogs. My clients have experienced amazing results with Nosework. It encourages their scenting ability and provides rewarding opportunities for your dog to explore and be curious. I wrote a blog, “Nosework is Amazing” that documents some of the successes associated with Nosework.
Trauma can also trigger separation anxiety. Dogs may be traumatized by time in the shelter, the loss of a family member, a break-in, or other events. So even though you may have set your dog up for success being alone, a traumatic event can still trigger separation anxiety.
If your dog is exhibiting signs of separation anxiety, call a qualified, professional dog trainer immediately. A professional dog trainer can help with behavior management protocols. Some of the protocols include teaching self soothing techniques, arranging for dog daycare during the modification period, desensitizing your dog to being alone, and homeopathic remedies. When the separation anxiety is extremely severe, it may be appropriate to seek the advice of a Veterinary Behaviorist. A Veterinary Behaviorist may suggest pharmaceutical intervention to assist with the behavior modification.
It is important to be patient and never scold or punish the dog for behaviors associated with separation anxiety. Many of my clients have experienced great improvements in their dog’s behavior by using the behavior protocols described. Emma, my most recent separation anxiety case, has a long way to go, but her owner’s flexibility in working from home and enlisting family babysitters is very helpful.