What is it? Separation anxiety is a serious behavioral issue that the dog panics upon the departure and absence of his guardian. It is extremely sad to see dogs with full-blown separation anxiety as even the mildest departure triggers can cause severe emotional and behavioral responses such as:
- Chewing to get out of crate or flipping the crate over
- Destroying door jambs or escaping the home
- Licking limbs until raw
- Wearing down nails in attempts to dig out of home
- Excessively panting, pacing or soiling
- Jumping through closed windows
Many dogs that are labeled to have “separation anxiety” may simply enjoy destroying the house, need some confidence building exercises, or something to do while alone. When asked what a barking dog has to do while home alone, the answer is often “I give my dog a treat”. One treat is very quickly eaten then the dog is bored. We like to add brain games, stay work, better toys and MUCH better fillings for those toys to assure your dog is not just bored before labeling a dog’s behavior as “Separation Anxiety”.
This does not imply a dog who exhibits extreme vocalization such as screeching, howling or barking, occasional soiling, destruction, escape attempts, loss of appetite, despondence or over-excitability over your comings and goings does not need help. It is, however, important to understand what causes your dog’s negative emotional responses during isolation and his triggers before designing a behavior modification plan. Start with the above first and videotape it to see if it helps. Regardless, seeing the behavior while you are away helps you and your trainer better understand what’s going on so you can most effectively address it.
Crates aren’t the culprit but some dogs learn to associate them with their guardian’s absence. There is still little research on whether the act of confining actually increases anxiousness. However, for the dog with separation-related issues, the crate is a scary place because he goes there every time his absolute favorite person or people leave so he fights when he’s put there or makes a lot of commotion when he’s in there. For the short-term, until your dog learns that the crate is a ‘happy place’, you will need to find a safe, alternate option while you are away.
What Causes It? Unfortunately, there is still no scientific answer on the actual cause of separation anxiety. There are some dogs that may be more pre-disposed to anxious behavior due to a ‘clingy’ personality. If your dog is one who followed you around the house from the moment he came into your life, without a lot of elaborate departure cues, there might be a genetic explanation for his behavior. It’s important to look at what your dog is actually doing when left alone. If it’s only soiling, chewing or barking it may be another behavioral issue. True separation anxiety is less common than thought and you might be able to resolve your dog’s issue with some leadership and frustration tolerance exercises.