It’s always nice coming home from work to a dog that’s so happy to see you. It’s obvious that your pooch has missed you and is glad to have you back. Some dogs go beyond just missing their owner, and are extremely distressed when left alone. They are not only thrilled when they are reunited with their much loved human, but suffer from severe anxiety until they return.
Separation anxiety in dogs is a behavioral problem which is manifest by severe distress when they aren't with their owner for a period of time. Symptoms of anxiety start when the owner is preparing to go, for example putting on their shoes or picking up their keys. The dog will start to pant and pace, and may even start whimpering.
When the owner is out, an anxious dog will often bark or howl constantly. They’ll chew on things such as pillows and scratch at the door. They may try and escape the house, and they’ll often urinate or defecate on the carpet. None of this is deliberate; they are so distressed they can’t help it.
As with people, there is no specific reason why one dog will develop separation anxiety and another won’t, but there are risk factors that seem to be common among affected dogs.
Any major change to their household routine can trigger anxiety. Some examples are children going back to school after time off.
If a dog is separated from the family can also be a problem. Again, examples are a stay in a boarding kennel or in a veterinary hospital.
Any perceived traumatic event that occurs when a dog is alone can make them fearful of being alone again. A severe storm or fireworks display can be responsible for this.
Dogs that have spent time in an animal shelter seem to be more at risk of developing this type of anxiety.
There appear to be some breed predisposition to anxiety related behaviors with Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Border Collies and German Shepherds possibly being more likely to suffer from them.
When it comes to behavior problems, it’s important to rule out any health or medical cause for them. Conditions such as bladder infections can cause soiling, and sore joints can make it hard for them to get outside to eliminate. In these cases, soiling inside isn't related to anxiety.
There are many facets to treating separation anxiety in dogs. Medication is important. Anti-anxiety drugs such as fluoxetine can help. Toys that keep dogs busy are also useful. Some people find the use of a thundershirt or wrap can reduce anxiety and calm dogs, but the evidence for this is purely anecdotal. There are no scientific studies that confirm that they do work. Pheromones are chemicals produced by dogs when feeding their puppies, and they create a feeling of calm. They are now available in a spray or in a collar to help manage anxiety. They’re safe and have no side effects. The main part of managing the condition though is retraining a dog so they learn to relax and cope when on their own. This isn't a quick fix, but it will make life much less stressful for both you and your dog.