In this month’s article, we will be discussing a very common behaviour that is seen in many dogs and even cats. This behaviour is termed as, “Separation Anxiety”. This term can be linked to your furry companion if he/she is seen being destructive at home when left by themselves for a period of time. Such destructive manners may include barking, chewing, defecating, urinating, digging, clawing or escaping when left alone. The common root cause to this problem is often seen to be distress. These signs of distress can also be seen initiated once the pet comes to understand that preparations of leaving the property are being made by the person, who they are most attached. This can be seen as a triggering event to their Separation Anxiety. This anxiety, like human anxiety, can be portrayed through different set of emotions. Your dog may show agitation, depression or anxiousness during this time. The main goal we wish to achieve when treating a dog displaying signs of separation anxiety is to show your dog that it is ok to be left alone and that it can be enjoyable at times too!
When treating a dog with separation anxiety, the goal is to resolve the dog’s underlying cause of uneasiness by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone. This is accomplished by setting contributing factors in a way so that the dog experiences the said situation without feeling the accompanying anxiety. Common signs we may see with this category of anxiety is: urinating/ defecating (which occurs in reciprocation of the owner leaving the pet alone); barking/howling; destruction of things (a dog may chew on objects or furniture, he may dig his nails into the front or back door of the house or destroy things in retaliation to being left alone); pacing (dogs may be seen showing restless behaviour of walking in circles or pacing back and forth); escaping (if a dog feels very anxious of being left alone in a confined space then his instinct will be to run away as soon as he sees the opportunity). There are many causes to why a dog may experience separation anxiety, such as a change in schedule, location, ownership or absence of a family member (death or moving away).
It is important to have a visit with your local veterinarian if your dog is experiencing the signs above. Your veterinarian may conduct a few tests first to rule out any underlying medical issues before bringing attention to the possible cause of separation anxiety. Treatment for such a condition is very doable but requires complete compliance of the owner, in order to sufficiently help the pet. A method in behaviour medicine, known as Counterconditioning, will be applied. This method allows for your dog to replace the anxious feelings surrounding an event of being left alone into a relaxed state instead. In next month’s article we will discuss a more detailed lay out of what the treatment plan for separation anxiety looks like.