Why does my dog have separation anxiety? This is always a difficult question for me to answer when I am asked this by a dog guardian. The short answer is that we don’t have a good answer for that question, but there may be some explanation of this disorder.
The most important thing to know when pondering the question of “Why?” is that it is not your fault. It is not because you have over-coddled your dog. It is not because you aren’t a strong enough leader. It is not because your dog was abused or because she came from a poor breeder or shelter. Separation anxiety can develop in most any dog and is incredibly prevalent in the species. It is not breed specific and can happen to perfectly sound bred puppies.
There are several potential situations that can cause separation anxiety to pop up, however my personal belief is that the dog has a genetic predisposition for this disorder. So you may not ever see separation anxiety signs until you move to a new location, but then suddenly the dog is anxious about being left alone.
This is a common occurrence, yet I don’t think that it was exclusively the move itself, but rather that the dog had a predisposition for alone time anxiety and the move from a familiar location was the precipitating event that brought it out. Any major change in a dog’s life can be such a triggering event. A traumatic experience to the dog could be a divorce, a terrible scary storm, a large change in schedules or loss of a loved one. There are many things that can happen that the dog perceives as scary that can lead to separation anxiety.
So, what can be done to prevent separation anxiety if we don’t know the cause really or if it is potentially genetic? The answer to that question is that we can do everything perfectly by socializing our puppies well, introducing them to crates and/or alone time gradually and leaving them with amazing food toys, but some will still get separation anxiety and will have to go through training to overcome it.
I think it is wise to consider that we can optimize the dog’s chances for alone-time success by doing a few important things and not doing other things.
What TO DO when dealing with separation anxiety in dogs
Do – Start with short absences and build up the dog gradually as long as he is not stressed. You can learn more about managing absences for separation anxiety training here.
Do – Exercise your dog regularly and provide lots of enrichment in the form of training, treat dispensing toys and fun things to chew on. Just remember, exercise will not ‘cure’ separation anxiety.
Do – use a reliable daycare, pet sitter or dog walker when you need to be away for any amount of time longer than your dog is comfortable, As we always say, it takes a village to treat separation anxiety!
Do – speak to your veterinarian and contact a professional trainer if your dog is experiencing signs of stress when left alone.
What NOT TO DO when dealing with separation anxiety in dogs
Don’t – Scold or punish your dog for doing something you don’t approve of while you are out. He is not misbehaving, he is having a panic attack.
Don’t – Use equipment that might be painful or scary for your dog. Equipment such as shock or citronella collars will only mask symptoms of anxiety and can actually increase your dog’s fear.
Don’t – Leave your dog in a crate alone if he hasn’t been thoroughly conditioned to love his crate.
Don’t – leave your dog alone for any longer than he is comfortable. He will not just “get over it”. Your dog is scared and needs help.
As a dog guardian, it is your job (a privileged one at that), to help your dog be safe, happy and comfortable. Make sure you follow these guidelines to ensure that.
This blog was originally featured on www.drlaura.com.