What causes dogs to have separation anxiety?
Ahh that dreaded moment. The one where you come home and the entire couch is ripped up, your rug is peed on and your door has been scratched to pieces. You want to be so angry but you also feel bad. Why did your dog freak out so darn badly?
Well, there could be a variety of reasons for this, but don’t worry, this situation is not uncommon. Separation anxiety affects 20-40% of dogs living in the average household. So why is this so common and what steps can we take to prevent this?
For one thing, changes in your schedule can provoke issues like this. There are loads of dogs that have been returned to shelters after the pandemic because they were not used to being alone and ended up being destructive in the home. Genetic factors can also play a role in anxiety ridden behaviors in dogs.
Here’s the thing, dogs are pack animals. And though they might be safe in a home they seem to have no idea if we will come back. Are they trapped here forever? Will they ever see you again?! When a dog has separation anxiety it can be compared to a human having a panic disorder such as a fear of spiders, heights or flying. The fear is very real, but the danger may not be.
We can experience fear of heights while being tethered to something that will catch us for example. I have seen people cry out of fear while climbing up the rock climbing wall even though they have something there to catch them. This is the same with our dog’s fear and it should not be taken lightly. Our job as dog owners is to show our dogs that it is okay to spend some time alone, and that we will indeed be back. Only then will they have a calm, successful and non-destructive time at home without us.
The way we can do this is by slowly conditioning them to be alone, and we usually start this with time away while we are still home. This can mean having the dog in another room for just a little while while you are cooking or cleaning for just short periods of time. You’ll need to do this slowly, and make sure your dog stays under their “threshold” during this training.
Being over the threshold includes exhibiting self destructive behaviors such as clawing, barking excessively, chewing, drooling, or defecating out of fear. What you are going to want to do is start leaving your pup in a seperate room for extremely small increments of time. For an extremely anxious dog you’ll want to literally start with leaving for a minute. As you continue going in and out through the door your dog will get bored. They’ll probably look at you like “what a silly hooman!” We call this exercise “the door is a bore”. And the entire point is to desensitize your pup from you being out of the room, until it’s more okay with them!
People often make the mistake of consoling their dog when they are exhibiting behaviors such as whining, barking, etc. It is important to ignore these because using a baby voice or offering them pets will reinforce this behavior. Punishing them for destructive behaviors after the fact does nothing because the dog cannot connect the ripped up door to what they did hours ago, and “punishing” them for being anxious will only add to their anxiety.
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By using these tips and tricks over time we will have a well adjusted pup on our hands!