You have come home after a long day at work. Your dog has urinated on the rug, destroyed a sofa cushion, and scratched up the floor. Your neighbors have left a note complaining about the constant barking. Is your dog angry with you for being away all day? Why would he do this?
It is unlikely that your dog is acting out of anger or spite. Instead, he may be showing signs of a behavioral disorder called separation anxiety. Dogs with this disorder can show varying degrees of symptoms. They might destroy objects or even parts of the house, sometimes near doors or windows. They may urinate, defecate or vomit. Other symptoms of anxiety include vocalization and/or excessive salivation. They may act ‘needy’ or ‘clingy.’ Dogs with anxiety become upset when their owners prepare to leave and act overly enthusiastic upon return.
Separation anxiety may be caused by changes in the household or routine. A traumatic event may also trigger this disorder. Dogs from shelters may be a risk from prolonged time in a kennel. Older pets may experience this type of anxiety as well.
What can we do to help these anxious pups? First, it’s important to realize they are not ‘bad dogs.’ Management of this disease includes behavioral modification to decouple departure cues, desensitize departures, and positively reinforce relaxed behaviors. The normal human tendency is to try to calm and reassure the dog that is showing signs of anxiety. But reassurance and comfort may actually have the opposite effect, reinforcing the undesired behavior.
In addition to behavioral modification, some dogs may actually need medication to help ‘re-train’ their brains to not feel anxiety during periods of separation. While giving Prozac or similar medications may sound extreme, it may help to reduce the estimated 5 million dogs whom are abandoned or euthanized yearly.
Separation anxiety can adversely affect or even destroy the relationship between dog and owner. If you need help with this problem, call Ansley Animal Clinic to schedule an appointment to discuss treatment options.