Common Signs of Separation Anxiety:
1. Extreme and destructive chewing (ex: eating an entire couch)
2. Relentless barking/howling for hours at a time (usually reported by a neighbor)
3. Excessive salivation
4. Digging inside the home at points of entry/exit
5. Loss of bowels
6. Consistent nausea
7. Self-mutilation (i.e. biting one's legs)
If your dog is exhibiting these behaviors at an escalated level when you are absent for any length of time, then you are most likely dealing with a case of separation anxiety.
Once you have identified these behaviors, the first step is to contact your veterinarian to discuss and to get your dog in for a check-up. It's important to ensure there are not other health issues contributing to the destructive activities. If all is well with your pet's overall health, be sure to ask for an anti-anxiety medication to alleviate stress.
Next, work on incorporating certain training exercises into your dog's daily routine. Practice asking your dog to "stay" while you slowly walk into the next room and out of sight. Call your dog soon after stepping out of his/her line of sight and reward calm behavior. Along with this exercise, begin integrating "thinking" toys and/or treats, such as goodie-filled Kongs. By mentally engaging your dog, you will be able to help them self-soothe and redirect their attention to a calming and enjoyable activity.
In addition to practicing out-of-sight exercises, start to increase daily exercise. Just like people, regular exercise can be a great stress reliever; improving not only emotional health, but physical health as well.
Having a second dog present can also help with the level of anxiety. The companion may be enough stimulation and comfort to allay fears of being alone. However, depending on level of severity, this will not work for all dogs. If your dog is anxious about being away from people, or more specifically you, a dog companion may not do the trick.
In these more severe cases, you will want to incorporate desensitizing procedures. Desensitizing procedures are actions that mimic the activities involved in your routine before you leave the house and after. For example, walking through the motions of putting on your shoes and coat, picking up your keys or cell phone. Go through the actions of preparing to leave the house and monitor your dog's reaction. Be sure to repeat this sequence of actions frequently, but at varying time intervals. Monitor what specific actions are "trigger actions" for your dog and reward calm behavior. In severe cases, it is also wise to contact a trainer that specializes in treating separation anxiety. Many owners can become overwhelmed and frustrated leading to more damaging training techniques. If your dog is at a level of self-mutilation or loss of bodily function, then it is best to enlist the experts for help and support.
Start with these great resouces to locate a professional in your area:
Lastly, it never hurts to incorporate certain products, such as a Thundershirt. The Thundershirt product is truly revolutionary and works by applying gentle pressure to your dog that is believed to impact the nervous system and release endorphins. This hormonal release promotes calming affects and has been shown to reduce stress levels by 80% for many dogs!
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