Separation anxiety can be incredibly frustrating for many new pet owners and is one of the most common behavior challenges. Animals that have separation anxiety will display destructive behaviors when left alone, excessive barking, growling, digging, and may even defecate and urinate frequently when left alone. In more severe cases, you may even see aggression caused by frustration when the owners are leaving the home. Dogs are pack animals and some of them have a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety when left alone.
Here are some helpful tips when combating separation anxiety.
- The first thing you need to do is to rule out any possible medical issues. Incontinence and urination issues may be attributed to medical issues and not separation anxiety.
- Dogs are associative learners, which means they learn in patterns, so give them a routine. Start creating a pattern of offering your pet a toy or type of food that is high value right before you leave. Make sure this item is something they only get when your away from the home, so that it stays a highly valued item.
- Do not get excited when you return home or at least don’t show excitement to your pet. Make leaving and returning to the home no big deal at all to your pet. Once the dog is calm after your arrival, then reward the dog by giving love and pets. This is difficult for many people since we love to greet our pets when we get home.
- Crating can be effective for some animals with separation but can also be detrimental for others with confinement anxiety or severe separation anxiety. If you want to try crating, then make the crate a fun and positive place. This is not a place to put your dog when they’re in trouble. Teach your pet to love the crate, by taking it slow and rewarding them when they do a good job in their kennel. If your pet is excessively panting or is at risk of hurting themselves, then this not the best option for your pet.
- Try to play some out-of-sight games. An example would be teaching your dog to stay while you move further and further away and eventually into another room. Try to encourage your pet to be in a different room while they eat and play or to play outside without your presence to teach them that being separated is okay.
- Giving your pet exercise prior to leaving can really help many dogs burn off some excessive energy and keep them tired when you’re away.
- Do not ever scold or punish your pet when they’re displaying separation anxiety because that will cause confusion and mistrust with your pet and in most cases make the situation much worse.
- If your pet has severe separation anxiety, then you may need to consult a behavior pharmacologist or veterinarian to discuss the possibility of medication to help with severe anxiety.
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Animal expert, Ashley Flores, CPDT-KA, is the Director of Animal Behavior & Training at Great Plains SPCA. Ashley has more than 16 years of experience in animal training and behavior.