Suffering from separation anxiety is devastating for the dog and heartbreaking for their family. Knowing your dog is distressed is awful. Not to mention any destruction of property that the dog might cause in order to cope with their anxiety.

Thankfully, not all destructive or anxious behaviour is caused by separation anxiety. Some of the most common symptoms of separation axiety are however, very normal dog behaviours. The fact that these are normal and common dog behaviours is why they are used by the dog as coping strategies.

Here are some common signs of separation anxiety:

  • Destructive chewing or digging,
  • Howling, whining and barking,
  • Urinating and defecating in the house,
  • Escaping the property or trying to get inside,
  • Pacing,
  • Excess salivation/drooling,
  • Tail biting and body licking.

Depending on the age and life stage of your puppy or dog, many of these behaviours are very normal. If you have recently moved house or had a large life change this can trigger these behaviours. Your dog could simply be bored and looking for things to do. How do you know if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety or something else?

What is separation anxiety?

How do you know if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety? Well, first we need to be clear on what separation anxiety (SA) actually is before we can determine if your dog is suffering from it.

The American Kennel Club defines separation anxiety as “when your dog exhibits extreme stress from the time you leave him alone until you return. The symptoms can vary, but he will act as if he’s terrified to be in the house on his own.”

Separation anxiety is similar to a phobia or the equivalent of a panic attack. Dogs who suffer from SA will do whatever they can to cope with the fear they feel.

In most cases, the anxiety will start well before you actually leave the house as the dog will notice your leaving cues and their stress builds the closer you get to leaving. Due to this build-up, the behaviour they use to cope usually occurs within the first 30 minutes of you leaving the house and often won’t let up until you are home.

The process of addressing SA can take many months and requires compassion, time and dedication. The treatment plan will usually include desensitisation and management strategies to manage the behaviour on a day by day basis.

If you believe your dog could be suffering from SA you should seek immediate assistance from a qualified dog training professional. I also recommend that you instal a small camera or recording device to capture the behaviour. The footage will provide valuable insight into the timing of the behaviour, therefore, confirming whether or not your dog is suffering from SA.

Could it be something else?

There are many other reasons why your dog may be displaying anxious or destructive behaviour unrelated to separation anxiety.

Your dog could simply be bored. If your dog doesn’t have anything to do, it will find something! And it might not be something that you want them to be doing. Don’t underestimate the negative impact boredom can have on a dog’s behaviour and the destruction it can leave behind.

The behaviour could be a learned one. For instance, vocalisation and even urinating inside can both be examples of learned behaviour rather than SA. Often a dog (or puppy) will learn to bark or whine to get its way or to get attention. Every time you respond to your dog’s barking or whining for attention, you reinforce that behaviour ensuring it continues.

As dogs are social creatures, it is not uncommon for them to prefer companionship and have trouble spending time by themselves. However, you can teach your dog to cope better on their own though, by slowly increasing the amount of time they spend by themselves while having something fun to do. Just because your dog might not like being home alone, does not necessarily mean they are suffering from SA.

Make sure you provide your dog with sufficient physical and mental stimulation throughout the day. Keep your dog occupied with appropriate activities and start building up how long they spend by themselves.

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