If you’re like most pet owners, you probably don’t consider your animal companion’s emotional state when he or she isn’t with you especially if that animal happens to be a canine. But canines are known for their high level of sensitivity and need constant attention from their humans. That said, some animals have more trouble coping than others.
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety may experience extreme distress at being left alone for even short periods of time, whether they’re confined inside a crate, car, house or backyard fence. They feel as though something terrible will happen without human assistance, so they become anxious about leaving home. In fact, separation anxiety has been called “the most common behavioral condition seen in dogs”.
Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety are often reluctant to leave their homes, which makes them prone to accidents such as chewing up furniture and digging holes under fences. These anxieties also make it difficult to socialize properly, because the dogs aren’t comfortable around people or other pets.
Owners may find themselves constantly reassuring their dogs that everything will be fine while trying to get them out of the house. The situation becomes worse over time, and separation anxiety can lead to severe problems with owner/pet bonding.
While separation anxiety affects only a small percentage of dogs (about 3 percent), those dogs do require special care.
Because of the potential danger separating dogs pose, professional treatment is recommended to minimize harm. One option is to use anti-anxiety medication, which helps alleviate the stress associated with separation anxiety. However, medications should never be relied on exclusively as a cure for separation anxiety. It’s important to seek counseling and training for both the animal and his or her owner.
In this article, we’ll look at how separation anxiety affects dogs, what causes the behavior, different techniques used to treat the condition and why certain methods work better than others. We’ll also examine the idea of using animal-assisted therapy.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
The cause of separation anxiety varies from case to case. If a family member suffers from depression, bipolar disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder, it could affect the likelihood of separation anxiety. For example, someone who tends to hoard food could develop separation anxiety after coming home from work and finding nothing to eat.
A childless couple might also worry about having no one to take care of their beloved pet during extended vacations. Other factors that contribute to separation anxiety include physical illness, poor diet, lack of exercise and living conditions. Some breeds of dogs are predisposed to separation anxiety due to genetics. German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Pugs all tend to exhibit signs of separation anxiety.
In addition, older dogs are more likely to show symptoms of separation anxiety than younger ones. Separation anxiety is usually experienced by middle-aged or senior dogs, so owners should keep in mind that their canine friend may not live much longer before dying naturally.
There are several types of separation anxiety. Generalized anxiety is the kind that appears whenever a dog is separated from its owner, regardless of location. This type of anxiety is particularly problematic since it doesn’t discriminate between indoors and outdoors.
Another form of separation anxiety occurs when dogs fear being locked away in crates, cages or cars. While generalized anxiety tends to manifest itself more drastically, intense phobias related to confinement tend to occur less frequently.
A good rule of thumb when dealing with separation anxiety is to remember that every dog is unique. Some animals respond well to medication, whereas others need more intensive forms of treatment. Consult with your vet to determine the best course of action for your specific dog.
One effective method of treating separation anxiety is through animal-assisted therapy (AAT). Animal-assisted programs provide support groups for patients and offer a variety of services, including individual and group sessions with trained volunteers. Volunteers typically undergo extensive screening procedures and receive specialized training in order to meet the needs of each patient. The goal of AAT is to create a positive relationship between patient and therapist.
Volunteers play various roles depending upon the particular program. Many AAT organizations rely heavily on volunteers to perform duties such as walking, playing games, reading aloud, taking patients outside and providing basic grooming. Since volunteer workers spend lots of time with patients, AAT provides an alternative to traditional mental health treatments.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, studies have shown that participating in AAT improves the moods, feelings and behaviors of patients. Additionally, research suggests that AAT can help individuals cope with stressful situations and relieve chronic pain.
Treating the Symptoms
When seeking a cure for separation anxiety, it’s crucial that you first understand where the disease originates. Your dog’s emotions are highly complex, so separating him or her from you won’t automatically eliminate the problem. You must address underlying issues that contributed to the development of separation anxiety. Once you’ve identified the source, you can then focus on solving the problem.
For instance, if your dog was neglected while growing up, you may want to learn more about how abuse can lead to separation anxiety. On the other hand, if your dog’s parents were overly protective of your dog, you may want to try establishing a closer bond with your pet.
Once you’ve determined the source of your dog’s anxiety, you can begin exploring solutions. There are three main approaches to treating separation anxiety, focusing either on changing your own behavior, modifying your environment or altering your pet’s internal chemistry.
Changing your behavior involves learning new skills to deal with anxiety and creating a plan to implement them. For instance, you could teach yourself relaxation strategies and practice them regularly. You can also encourage your dog to interact with you more often.
If you’re worried about leaving your dog alone for long periods, you can enroll in obedience classes or train with a professional trainer. Finally, you could try implementing desensitization exercises, which involve gradually exposing your pet to things he or she fears until the dog feels secure around them.
You may also choose to modify your environment by making changes to your home that will allow you greater access to your dog. If your dog spends too much time in his crate, you could replace it with another room or buy collapsible walls to expand the space.
You could also install safety gates or barriers to protect your dog from potentially dangerous areas of your home. Alternatively, you could rearrange objects so your dog can see you more easily. You could move furniture and open cabinet doors above kitchen counters to give your dog a view of the room. Of course, you could also add a window.
Altering your pet’s internal chemistry entails giving your dog sedatives or tranquilizers to relax him or her. Although this approach seems quick and easy, it does carry risks. Sedating your dog could interfere with his normal sleep cycle and affect his ability to function normally. Also, the effects may wear off quickly, so you’d have to administer the drugs repeatedly throughout the day.
Keep in mind that separation anxiety is a very complex issue that requires expert intervention. Make sure to consult with your veterinarian before beginning any treatment regimen. He or she can help evaluate your pet’s overall health and suggest options for improving your pet’s lifestyle.