What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a common and often misunderstood problem for many dogs today. A dog with true separation anxiety is having a panic attack (similar to ones humans have) and has no control over it. He is not a bored, grumpy dog seeking revenge on his owners for leaving him alone. Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit symptoms of anxiety or excessive distress when they are left alone including some or all of the following behaviors:
- Incessant whining, barking, or howling
- Constant pacing
- Salivating and drooling
- Urinating and defecating in the home
- Chewing, digging, and destruction, often in an attempt to escape
What causes Separation Anxiety?
There is no definitive explanation for why some dogs develop separation anxiety and others don’t. Some breeds may be genetically predisposed to the condition, but environment plays a significant role as well. This anxiety is typically caused by
emotional trauma that a dog has not been able to resolve or release. It can be a major trauma such as past abuse or neglect, loss of a pet or human companion, or being lost or abandoned. It can also be a series of small stresses over time such as changes in routine, moving to a new home, new family members, exposure to loud noises, or an ongoing illness or injury. Consult your veterinarian for a definite diagnosis. A video of your dog’s behaviors can be helpful, but laboratory testing may also be done to rule out underlying medical issues.
My dog has Separation Anxiety, now what?
Once you are sure your dog has separation anxiety, your goal is to reduce her dependence on you and boost her self-confidence so she can feel safe and relaxed when you are away. Unfortunately, many pet parents make the anxiety worse with excessive pampering, scolding, and their own stress.
Some ways you can help.
- Start behavior modification right away. This involves training your dog to assume a calm, relaxed demeanor during separations. Increase distance and time away gradually and use praise and rewards with every success. This process can take weeks or months, but is often very effective. If you need assistance, seek the help of a positive dog trainer or canine behavior specialist.
- Don’t fuss over your dog before you leave; just give him his favorite treat-release toy to keep him occupied while you are away.
- Give your dog rigorous exercise daily to release pent up stress for both of you.
- Consistent training or classes can help to build confidence.
- If your dog is hyperactive or frantic when you arrive home, ignore her until she calms down. This reinforces the relaxed behavior.
- Switch up your departure routine so your dog doesn’t anticipate the daily cues that prompt anxiety.
- Play classical or spa-type music at a low volume while you are away to help your dog remain more relaxed.
- Consider diffusing calming essential oils and use cool, calming colors (think blue, pink, green, and purple) in your dog’s environment (collar, bedding, and blanket).
How I can help.
In my experience working as a Healing Touch for Animals practitioner in a holistic
veterinarian office and with my current clients, I have seen the following to be very helpful in addition to behavior modification:
- With Healing Touch/Reiki sessions, I use light touch or near body techniques to clear and balance the dog’s energy system to better
support his physical and emotional health, release trauma and stress, and help him to be more calm and grounded.
- During a session, I may also muscle-test Calm My Pet products and Gem Essences to determine if an essence is beneficial for safely and gently easing trauma.
With time, patience, and persistence, most dogs with separation anxiety can be relieved of the worst of their symptoms. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, playtime, mental stimulation, and loving care. The more full and complete her life is when you are around, the calmer she’ll be when you’re not. And that makes all your effort worthwhile!