Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Separation Anxiety is one of the most common behavioral disorders found in dogs today. Although prevention and treatment can be relatively straightforward, many dogs go undiagnosed and may be punished, given up or worst, euthanized in response to behaviors that are symptoms of separation anxiety. It's important to know what to look for and how to respond so you and your furry friend can strengthen your bond and get the most out of a healthy, happy companionship.

So many cases of separation anxiety in dogs go untreated for years and may even never receive treatment, should the ailed canine's human neglect to address behaviors appropriately. Affecting 20 - 40% of dogs, separation anxiety is so common due to many of its symptoms being mistaken for other issues such as lack of training or discipline. Many symptoms, however, may also be related to untreated complications in a dog's health or may be reactions to stress and environmental factors.

If a dog exhibits any of the following symptoms abnormally in the absence of his/her human, the dog may be suffering from separation anxiety:
- Urination or defecation in odd or seemingly intentional places- Noticeable anxiety or excitement when his/her human prepares for departure- Excessive or nervous drooling, pacing, circling, barking, howling, or whining- Chewing, scratching, or digging that may damage property- Escape attempts or signs thereof

Although there's a lack of substantial evidence for the causes of separation anxiety in dogs to really know for sure what its causes are, there are fortunately plenty of tried and tested methods of prevention that have confirmed satisfactory results.

Fostering comfort, security, and independence while a dog's human is absent is critical for avoiding behaviors of separation anxiety. Independence conditioning is easiest in the earlier stages of a dog's life. Keeping the pup in a room all their own or crating the pup while you're away or otherwise occupied is a common training practice that can be valuable in formative years.

Regular daily exercise and playtime is undeniably one of the best practices to maintain for both dogs and their human companions. Not only does it help to keep a dog healthy and happy in general, but it will also help doggy burn off excess energy so, while you're away, he/she will more likely satisfy themselves with a nap instead of gnawing on your new shoes. A minimum total of two hours of activity is recommended.

Providing sufficient supply of toys, treats, activities, and comforting scents help in making a dog less anxious while separated from his/her human. Toys and activities that allow a dog to entertain his/herself will help combat boredom, while anything that smells strongly of a dog's beloved human such as socks or an old t-shirt will provide comfort and may even serve as a reminder to the dog that his/her human will return.

Dog T-shirtTry setting up a special area for your pet with a comfortable bed, their favorite toys, and some dogs may even feel secure wearing a snug shirt.

If your dog has been diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder or you suspect he/she may suffer from its symptoms, be they mild or severe, you may want to speak with your veterinarian about what treatments may be best for your furry friend. Dogs can be as unique as humans when it comes to their personalities and what makes them tick. Finding the right solution for your dog's specific circumstance will help in adapting treatment to achieve the best results.

Medications, herbal supplements, and a variety of therapies, counseling services, and opportunities for proper socialization are available as a treatment for canine separation anxiety. Just like any treatment, it's important to consider the pros and cons of speaking with your veterinarian to determine the safest, most reliable prescription or administration. 

Avoid disciplinary action, punishment, and raising your voice. Often, just like humans, dogs will act out in efforts to get attention. If your dog exhibits separation anxiety symptoms in your absence, giving them negative attention reinforces the behavior and disciplinary action often ends up having the opposite reaction.

Evaluate your own lifestyle and consider all environmental factors that may be affecting your dog. Consider and experiment with anything you can to create a more relaxed lifestyle, routine, and environment for you and your dog.

As you and your canine companion journey toward good health and continue striving to wellness, remember to be patient, compassionate, and forgiving--not just with Fido, but also yourself. Preventing and treating undesirable behavior in your mutt will end up training the both of you to be healthier and more balanced.

Here's to man's best friend and healthy, happy, lifelong companionship full of tail wags and puppy cuddles. Fido's worth it!