Dog Behavior 101: Separation Anxiety

January 11th, 2021

    Separation anxiety is one of the most frequent behavioral complaints we hear at The Ark. A dog with separation anxiety left home alone can not only be upsetting for the dog, but can be very upsetting when the owner comes home from work or vacation to a destroyed house! Separation anxiety occurs when the dog is separated from it’s guardian.


    Symptoms of separations anxiety: 

    • Urinating and defecating inside when normally potty trained.
    • Constant barking and howling
    • Chewing, digging, and general destructive behavior
    • Escaping
    • Pacing
    • Coprophagia (poo eating)
    Sometimes these symptoms can be misdiagnosed and it is important to rule some things out prior to jumping to separation anxiety. 
    • Puppies will engage in destructive behavior, but this is not always due to separate anxiety.
    • General boredom can also lead to destructive behavior. 
    • Your pup may not be as potty trained as you believe. 
    • Excessive barking and howling may have nothing to do with separation, but rather triggers that upset your dog during the day.


    How to address symptoms: 

    Mild: Give your dog a puzzle or stuffed kong 20 min prior to you leaving. This will help your dog associate leaving with something positive and make it less likely to be upset when you walk out of the door. Use these extra special treats only when you leave so they stay a high value treat for your pup, used only when you leave the house.

    Moderate: Moderate or severe cases of separation anxiety require a more complex desensitization and counterconditioning program. Reduce pre-departure cues, some dogs are triggered by grabbing your keys or the suitcase prior to leaving. Desensitize your dog by randomly doing this during a normal day so it is not always associated with leaving the house.

    Plan short “out of sight stays” practice telling your dog to stay and leave the room momentarily and rewarding even short periods without barking or issue. Gradually build up the period of time. Start very small, 3-5 seconds at first. No really, this is going to take some time, don’t give up! 

    We know this is tough, but it can be addressed! There are supplements to your training as well. If possible you can bring your dog to work, but if that is not an option, you can hire someone to stop by the house once a day to let the dog out and make sure they are not left all day long. Another option is to hire a dog behaviorist trainer, like our friends at Good Citizen K9, who can do the leg work for you. For extreme cases, there are over the counter “medications” like CBD that can aid in reducing anxiety. You can also bring your dog to a doggy daycare like The Ark that specializes in dog body language and free play. We hope this helps, and if you need a safe, fun place for your pup maybe a good option! We will assess your pup and let you know if daycare will be a good fit for them!

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