Pet Behavior Digest - My Newsletter For Pet Owners and Pet Lovers
Does Your Dog Have Seperation Anxiety?
As more pets are rescued from shelters, fewer dogs and cats are being euthanized unnecessarily. However, many of those rescued dogs need treatment for what is known as “Separation Anxiety.” SA is not a condition limited to rescue dogs; but it is more common in pets that have been abandoned, relinquished to shelters, or separated in some other way from their caretakers. We see dogs of all ages and breeds afflicted with Separation Anxiety; but mixed breeds top the list.
Dogs with SA may be destructive, vocalize excessively, pant, or salivate when you leave them home alone; or get overexcited when you return. Typically, these pets are very needy and clingy. They are constantly looking for attention. If their behaviors are severe, we need to address the problem immediately. If their symptoms are mild, we want to make sure that the condition doesn't escalate. Record or video your dog when you are away for more clues.
If you think your pet has SA, it would be helpful to look at your behavior as well. Do you encourage independence in your dog? Do you praise and reward good, calm behavior or do you pet your dog when it seems concerned and is barking or jumping on you? Do you give attention every time your dog begs or nudges you?
It may be surprising to learn that owners can contribute to the anxiety that develops into a problem by unknowingly reinforcing the undesirable behaviors. Some owners have told me that they actually like their pet’s overexcitability or excessive vocalization when they come home, because it communicates, "I missed you." The owners don’t realize that rewarding calmer behavior would be more helpful for their pet. For example, if your dog is very excited and jumping on you, and then you pet it, your dog will be more likely to continue to jump on you, because your touch, like a food treat, reinforces that behavior. It would be better to say "sit" and then pet your dog and praise it when it obeys. So touch appropriately!
The symptoms of SA can be decreased but it takes time and patience and a clear plan of action. It's best to meet with a professional: a behavior specialist or a skilled trainer experienced in working with this problem. You may want to speak with your veterinarian if the anxiety is severe, as sometimes medication can be prescribed that may be helpful if used in conjunction with behavior modification. Using medication alone to treat Separation Anxiety is not as effective.