Dog Behavior Problem: Separation Anxiety

dog separation anxietySome of the most common behavior problems in dogs of all ages are the result of being left alone at home. Dogs with separation problems may howl or bark in an attempt to call the rest of their “pack” home again. They can  become destructive, tearing or clawing at carpets, objects, furniture, or walls and doors or they may lose bowel or bladder control. In extreme cases, some dogs have been known to become so distressed at being left alone that they self-mutilate biting at themselves until the affected area becomes sore and infected.

Separation problems tend to fall into 3 Categories:

  1. Separation anxiety or separation distress

Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety simply cannot cope when they are left alone at home, and chew or howl in order to make themselves feel better .A little like people who bite their fingernails when under stress. Such dogs are nearly always overattached to their owners when they are at home following them from room to room like shadows, and this is the basis of the problem. Such overattachment can be regarded as an addiction the dog is constantly getting a “fix” through contact with its owner, and goes into “withdrawal” and true distress when it cannot reach them.

Over time, the dog with separation anxiety needs to learn that there are times when it cannot have contact with the owner, even when they are in the house together. Clear signals of reward (you may have contact) and non-reward (no contact allowed for a short period) need to be instigated, and the period of time that the dog is without the owner gradually extended from only a few seconds, to minutes, then an hour.The solution to separation anxiety in dogs always needs to be gradual and carefully structured, preferably with the help of a behavior specialist.

  1. Separation frustration

    dog separtation frustration

Some dogs do not believe their owners have the right to go out and leave them! These dogs then become frustrated, and relieve this frustration through becoming destructive, noisy, or messing in the house.

They tend to be demanding in other ways too often taking control of time, attention, or resources when the owner is home. Reestablishing the rules and boundaries of the relationship can help greatly, but this is best done with the advice of a behavior counselor.

        3 Boredom and lack of Stimulation

In the wild, dogs would be required to solve problems all day long. Finding and hunting for food, maintaining social interactions, ru nning and walking great distances, keeping territory safe, finding places to rest, and watching out for predators or intruders would all be part of an average day’s work.

In a domestic situation, the dog’s food is provided and placed in a dish for him to eat. Its exercise and play times are limited by the owner, who decides the length of time and type of interaction, and few intruders are anticipated. It’s little wonder that so many dogs show signs of boredom, particularly when left alone at home. Given sufficient time and opportunity, bored dogs problem-solve to their heart’s content but usually to the consternation of their owners on return. Many dogs learn how to open doors, turn knobs, open the fridge door to raid the contents, find forbidden items to chew or eat, and generally use the house as an amusement arcade!

If you suspect that your dog is bored when left alone, you need to provide more stimulation for it both when you are at home and for when you go out. Increased exercise is usually recommended, as a tired dog is less likely to get into trouble. However, leaving your dog with some exciting toys to play with and some novelty items to explore may also help. “Interactive” toys, which dispense food while the dog is playing with them, are ideal, as are chews. Even a large cardboard box can be a fun object to play with especially since it won’t matter if your dog destroys it. It just leaves a real mess when you get home to clear up.