Separation anxiety is a condition where dogs are destructive or disruptive when left alone. They may urinate, defecate, bark, howl, chew, dig or try to escape. It is often the hyper-attached dog that gets stressed when left alone but it is not understood why some dogs are more prone to anxiety. There seems to be a higher incidence of separation anxiety in people oriented breeds and shelter dogs.
Anxiety typically manifests within 30 minutes of the owners departure. While some dogs may occasionally act out or forget their house training, for a dog with separation anxiety, the bad behavior is every time you leave and only in your absence. It is thought that life changes or a sudden change in schedule might bring on anxiety for some dogs.
Behaviorists make a distinction between separation anxiety and isolation anxiety. Separation anxiety disorder usually involves just one person the dog is super bonded to. While isolation anxiety occurs when the dog is separated from any human. In other words, a dog with separation anxiety is good as long as their “special” person is around, other people can go and come. With isolation anxiety the dog is distressed over being left alone.
Dogs pick up cues from us. A dog with anxiety may drool or pace when you pick up your keys to leave. They may whimper or bark at you. The worse thing you can do is baby a dog when they exhibit these behaviors. It is better to be low key when leaving or returning. Behavior modification can help in most situations. Punishment is ineffective when dealing with separation anxiety.
Adequate mental and physical stimulation is important for all dogs but especially for anxiety prone dogs. A tired dog will stress less.
Introduce a special toy such as a Kong stuffed with peanut butter when in a calm situation. Puzzle toys might work better with some dogs. The goal is to find something your dog really enjoys and that will keep him busy. Then save that “special” toy for when you leave. It is important to introduce the toy when the dog is not stressed.
Pick up your keys then sit down and read or watch tv. Do it at different times. Progress to walking to the door but don’t leave. When your dog doesn’t show signs of stress give him his special toy and step out of a moment. Come back in before he has a chance to react. Gradually build up the time you out of sight.
Crating is usually not ideal for a dog with severe anxiety, they are likely to injure themselves trying to escape. A dog proof room such as a laundry room is usually a better option if you need to confine an anxious dog.
A calming medication might be needed to maximize the effectiveness of behavior modification efforts in severe cases. There are herbal over the counter preparations or your vet can prescribe a stronger medication.