Does your dog become nervous when he sees you getting ready to leave the house? Do your neighbors complain that he barks, howls, or otherwise carries on while you are away? Do you return home to find that your dog has urinated or defecated inside the house, has chewed on the furniture, or has otherwise acted destructively? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety.
The first thing an owner should do when faced with the destruction caused by a dog suffering from separation anxiety is to take a deep breath and calm down. You must remember that he behaved in this way because he was truly scared of being left alone. If you punish him in any way he will become even more scared, making the situation worse rather than better.
This does not mean, however, that there is nothing that can be done to help dogs become better able to tolerate separation from their owners. Behavioral modification is possible. The goal is to teach dogs to relax, reward them for doing so and to promote a healthy rather than overly dependent relationship between dog and owner. Try the following techniques:
- Pretend to leave (e.g., pick up your keys, put on your coat, etc.) but then stay or walk out the door but immediately come back in. As your dog begins to learn that you always return after you leave, gradually extend the amount of time you are gone.
- When you return home, ignore your dog until he is calm.
- Do not allow your dog to sleep in your bed.
- Ask someone else to do things with your dog that he enjoys (e.g., taking him on a walk or feeding him) and even consider hiring another person to take him out for a walk if you have to be gone for a long period of time.
- Give your dog special toys when you leave and put them away when you are home.
- Keep a television or radio on while you are gone.
In some cases, dogs need help relaxing in order to be more receptive to behavioral modification. Dog appeasing pheromone, a substance that nursing females emit to calm their pups, is available in sprays, diffusers, collars and wipes. Over-the-counter anxiety-relieving nutraceutical, herbal or homeopathic formulations are also worth a try.
If your dog’s anxiety is severe or worsens despite your attempts to treat it at home, make an appointment with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. They can thoroughly assess the situation, design a behavioral modification plan best suited to your dog’s particular needs, and even prescribe powerful anti-anxiety medications like Clomicalm®, Reconcile® (fluoxetine) or amitripyline .
With appropriate treatment, most dogs can learn to tolerate some time by themselves.