The Pet Parent Resource

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Fall can bring with it a major shift in routine if your family includes school-age children or an education professional. Such a change may trigger separation anxiety in your dog, who misses the lively daytime companionship. Here is some information to help you better understand and identify this affliction, and some tactics to help your pet cope with your new routine.

Causes

There is no conclusive evidence as to why dogs develop separation anxiety, but the loss of an important person or group of people is believed to lead to it. Less startling changes can also be trigger separation anxiety.

• Living Arrangements

Moving to a new house, being surrendered to a shelter or joining a new family can bring about separation anxiety.

• Schedule

Going from spending all day with humans to being alone for six more hours at a time, such as when kids return to school, can be jarring.

• Household Membership

Death, divorce and adult-age children leaving the nest can transform a dog’s daily life in an upsetting way.

Symptoms

Dogs with separation anxiety may exhibit symptoms such as those listed here.

• Urinating and Defecating

This typically occurs when the pet is left alone, and should be distinguished from instances that occur in front of you.

• Barking and Howling

This type of vocalization is normally persistent, and the trigger doesn’t appear to be anything except being left alone.

• Chewing, Digging and Destruction

Self-injury, broken teeth, cut paws and damaged nails can all result from destructive behavior exhibited towards inappropriate items such as doorways, window sills and household objects.

• Escaping

Dogs with separation anxiety may attempt to escape by chewing through doors or windows when his pet parent is away.

• Pacing

Some dogs walk or trot in a fixed pattern, such as in circles or back and forth in a straight line when left alone.

• Coprophagia

This occurs when a dog defecates and then eats all or some of their waste. If a dog does so because of separation anxiety, he probably doesn’t do it in the presence of his pet parent.

Treatment

Basic counterconditioning may help reduce or resolve the problem if your dog’s separation anxiety is mild. Such counterconditioning employing coping tactics (see below for ideas) to make your dog associate good things with his time spent alone rather than fear or anxiety.

• Hide treats around the house for your pet to find during the day.
• Give your pet a treat-filled or interactive toy to keep busy.
• Consider leaving the TV or radio on to soothe a lonely pet.
• Hire a pet sitter or dog walker to break up the day.
• Schedule at least one fun activity with your pet a week.

Easing your pet into the transition, if you are able, can be very helpful. You can try leaving your pet alone for 15 minutes and gradually extend the absence for longer periods.

If your pet is really stressed out by the change, you may start noticing a compulsive behavior, like excessive licking or pacing, and a call to your veterinarian may be in order. Get the facts on these behaviors and coverage for them.

Information courtesy of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®).



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