What Is Separation Anxiety? And How Do You Prevent It?

Many dog owners have heard of something called “separation anxiety” in dogs. What is it? And how do you keep your dog from having it?

Separation anxiety in dogs is similar to separation anxiety in children or people. In the case of dogs, your dog is insecure and anxious. He is usually closely bonded to his owner. When the owner has to leave the home (as most of us do, to go to work or run errands), your dog panics and may display some alarming behavior such as non-stop barking, wailing, defecating in the house, tearing up your clothes, destroying furniture or other objects, and a refusal to be calmed by other family members or friends. Not all cases of separation anxiety are this bad, but severe cases are very bad indeed.

Separation anxiety usually occurs in dogs that don’t have good socialization when they are young puppies. Socialization at a young age (two to seven months or so) helps a puppy build self-confidence. They meet other humans; they go places and see new things; they meet other puppies and dogs. All of these experiences help a puppy develop into a confident adult dog who is able to cope when his owner has to go away for short periods. A puppy who is not well-socialized, for whatever reason, comes to rely too much on one person for all his emotional needs. When that person leaves him alone, the dog goes to pieces until the owner returns.

Separation anxiety often occurs in dogs that have been through the rescue and shelter system because they have not had a steady home or someone to rely on. Once they are adopted, they can bond very closely to their new owner. They may not want to allow their owner out of their sight and may follow them from room to room. When the owner has to leave the house, the dog may feel abandoned again.

But separation anxiety can also occur in dogs that have come from good breeders if they have not been adequately socialized. If the dog has been very close to one person all their life and they haven’t met many other people, or gone many places, they can also feel lost when their owner leaves them alone.

The best way to help your dog avoid separation anxiety is to socialize him as much as possible from a young age. Take your puppy everywhere. Encourage friendly people to pet him. Allow him to meet other friendly puppies and dogs, on a supervised basis. The more experience your puppy has with the world, the more confident he will be. He will be able to adapt when you have to leave him at home for short periods.

If you are adopting a dog who may have some separation anxiety issues, you will need to work on slowly desensitizing your dog to the things that trigger his separation anxiety. He may start getting upset when you pick up your keys or your handbag. You will need to slowly work through his issues. Pick up your keys and show him that nothing bad happens. Go to the door and let him see that it’s all right. You can gradually work up to going outside and starting your car, and then taking a short ride and coming right back. It may take months to work through each stage and showing your dog that you always come right back and he has nothing to fear. In some cases you may need to talk to your veterinarian. There are some medications which can be used to help while you work on modifying your dog’s behavior.

Most dogs can learn to overcome their separation anxiety if you are patient and willing to work on the problem with them.

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