The following bi-weekly column is written and sponsored by Bark + Boarding, which provides a heart-centered and safe environment for your pets. Conveniently located at 5818-C Seminary Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, Bark & Boarding offers doggy daycare, boarding, grooming, walking and training services, plus in-home pet care.
by Chelsea Pennington, Bark + Boarding Writer and Animal Enthusiast
Getting a new dog can be exciting but what do you do if you realize your new pooch hates being home alone? Howling, destructive behaviors and urinating in the house are all habits no one wants in their pet, but there can be a simple explanation: separation anxiety.
Being aware of this common trait in dogs can help you identify the signs and get the help your pet needs so that you can both feel relaxed whenever you leave home.
There is no single defined cause of separation anxiety, which can make it hard to diagnose. Potential causes usually stem from a major life change, such as a new owner, moving to a new residence, a shift in their regular schedule or a missing household member, perhaps due to death or moving away.
Separation anxiety in dogs can manifest in a variety of ways. Common signs include excessive barking or howling, destructive acts like chewing furniture or scratching at doors and urinating in the house. Sometimes the signs aren’t as obvious, like intense pacing or excessive drooling, panting or salivation. If the dog is confined, separation anxiety may also cause him or her to try and escape, whether by digging if outdoors or clawing at their cage.
If your dog is displaying any of these symptoms, it’s important to first rule out some other potential causes. Incontinence might be a result of a number of medical problems, old age or lack of training. Boredom can also be a cause of destructive behavior.
Be sure your pup has plenty of toys left out for them to play with when you leave, so that they always have something to do. Try using interactive toys that allow you to hide a treat inside for the dog to find to keep them occupied.
Howling or barking can be caused by triggers in the environment, like a new sound or something they see through the window. If this is the cause, it will often happen whether or not the owner is home.
If you determine that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, there are several measures you can take to help. Ensure that your dog has had the opportunity to expel some energy prior to leaving. When you do leave, don’t make a big deal out of it, if you act as if leaving is normal it helps your dog get the message that it’s all part of a standard routine.
If this doesn’t work, you can also mix up your ‘going away’ signals. Use a different door, put on your coat and shoes but don’t leave immediately, or keep your keys, purse or shoes in a new location. The goal is to change the fact that your dog associates these behaviors with leaving, causing them to get anxious before you even step out the door.
You can also help relieve separation anxiety by giving them a distraction. Leaving them with a toy, particularly something like a Kong with peanut butter, helps them not notice you leaving. You can also leave a radio or TV playing while you’re gone. The sound of human voices has often been shown to help calm down anxious dogs while their owners are away.
If you’ve tried working with your pup and are still seeing signs of separation anxiety there are many over-the-counter, prescription or all natural supplements that may help. Pheromone collars and/or diffusers, like Adaptil, send calming messages to your dog helping them relax in stressful situations.
Supplements, like NaturVet’s Quiet Moments Calming Aid, use all-natural ingredients like tryptophan & melatonin to help your pup in times of stress. Many vets now recommend CBD oil, which can be put directly in the dog’s mouth or come in treat form to help relieve anxiety.
If all else fails, talk to your vet about starting your dog on an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant. Remember that none of these are a magic fix and should be combined with training to ensure the best possible results.
If your dog is struggling to overcome separation anxiety, bringing them to doggy daycare is also a good solution. At daycare your dog spends time with other dogs and humans all day long, keeping them far too busy to experience separation anxiety.