Have you noticed that your dog more-than-misses you when you’re gone? When you leave, do your neighbors tell you that your furry companion makes an excessive amount of noise, wets everywhere, or maybe is destroying your house or yard? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your dog may have separation anxiety.
According to Psychology Today, separation anxiety is defined as “...fear or anxiety about separation from home or an attachment figure.” It can be very rough on your pup if they do in fact have separation anxiety. However, some dog owners have speculated that their dog might be faking it to get attention. Your pup probably isn’t “faking” it - you might just be misdiagnosing the signs of separation anxiety.
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Signs Your Dog Might Have Separation Anxiety
If your dog truly has separation anxiety, they’ll probably exhibit some distressing symptoms. According to pets.webmd.com, you may notice your dog is, as mentioned above, having bathroom accidents all over your house. This can be a stinky and unsettling problem, especially if your dog has seemed potty trained in the past.
Secondly, they might howl or bark a lot if you are gone and they feel unsafe. They also might become very destructive, try to escape, or pace until you get back. Aside from these symptoms, dogs can also start hurting themselves. So, you have to watch your pooch carefully for any of these signs.
However, as mentioned, some dog owners misdiagnose their pup with separation anxiety, when it is something else entirely. Your dog might simply be bored, lonely, have a medical problem with their bladder, or have other issues. It’s important to talk to your vet, and rule out different options to keep your pupper safe and happy.
- Medical Issues
History of Dogs Having Separation Anxiety
Historically, there isn’t a whole lot about separation anxiety in dogs. This may be because people have given their dogs away because they were “too much to handle” or misdiagnosed their separation anxiety.
It also should be noted that in times past, many people had multiple dogs that lived outside or in barns all of the time. This means that owners would not be in tune with such subtleties - and the dogs likely never felt lonely due to their other animal companions and abundant freedom.
Since dogs are now a part of the family, much more consideration is given to their mental and physical well-being at any given time. Having them in our homes has lead to a host of new issues that dogs and their people did not encounter in previous centuries.
No matter the reason, separation anxiety is a very serious issue that probably needs more attention. However, there have finally been some studies done about this over the last few decades.
Science Behind Dogs' Separation Anxiety
According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, “Separation anxiety has long been recognized as an anxiety-related disorder in dogs that is only observed in the owner's real absence or perceived absence.” While this has been a very commonly discussed disorder over several decades, past understanding the symptoms, not many studies have been done, unfortunately.
There was nothing from them about dogs faking anxiety, either, which is telling. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what creates anxiety problems in dogs. However, a few sources have noted that changes in routine, family, or home could play a role in a dog’s anxiety or behavioral issues.
Since dogs are highly sensitive animals, that are, by nature, animals that live and travel in families of packs, it’s not terribly surprising that they would not want to be left alone. So, once their attachment figure or “pack” leaves them alone, they probably feel abandoned and not sure if they'll be coming back for them.
Training Your Dog to Feel More Calm While You're Gone
As for training, it’s not terribly likely your dog is intentionally faking have an anxiety disorder. As mentioned, they either have an anxiety disorder or a behavioral issue, and the most important thing to do before trying to help train your dog is to see your vet. Rule out any other medical issues or boredom. If your dog truly has an anxiety disorder, they might need professional help. So, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis right off the bat. Once you know what’s truly going on, you can better help your pup.
So, what if your dog actually has separation anxiety? Don’t panic, there are a few things you can try. You can always start by talking to a professional dog trainer and get their tips and tricks to save yourself some time and stress.
However, if you decide to go it alone, according to pets.webmd.com, if your dog has a mild case of separation anxiety, you can start by giving them a toy or puzzle filled with treats before you leave. Some people like to get their dogs things like kongs and stuff them with peanut butter or other treats, but that’s up to you to decide what your dog would like best. This way, they associate being left alone with a game and yummy treat. Once you get home, remember to take away the toy, so they only associate it with you being gone. Hopefully, over time, this will distract them, and help them to get past their fear.
If your dog has a severe case of separation anxiety, they might really need the help of a professional. If you’re working with your dog at home, it’s important to not punish them for the anxiety or leave them alone for long periods of time. There are different techniques you can try to help temper their anxiety, but that’s up to you and your vet. If all else fails, you can always put your pup in doggy daycare, have a family member stop by to see them at a scheduled time every day, or even take them to work, if you can.
If your pup doesn't have separation anxiety, you might want to consider giving them more things to do, making sure they are on a consistent schedule, make sure there aren’t too many changes going on in their life at once, and just generally make sure they are staying healthy.
So, can your dog fake it? Probably not. It’s more than likely, they are calling for help with another issue that you need to get to the bottom of to keep your pup happy and safe.
How to React to Your Dog Having Separation Anxiety:
Do not punish your dog for fearful behaviors, as this will only make them worse.
Try making time alone a happy experience by giving your dog puzzle toys and treats as you head out the door.
Seek professional help if your dog has extreme separation anxiety.
We've had this dog for 10 years but only recently he's started barking excessively in the middle of the night (and some during the day.) What's more is we have two other dogs to always keep him company. He only seems to have separation anxiety from one person in our family as well, as when she is with him he's quiet. When she's not paying attention to him, he fusses. And when she's not even in the house he's quiet. It appears to only be for attention as he only makes a big deal when he knows she is home, but not within one or two feet of him (this isn't an exaggeration.) When she isn't home and therefore can't give him attention, he doesn't bother the other two people in our family, including myself at all. Also, when the person he's attached to sleeps downstairs with him, he doesn't make nearly as much of a fuss. But she can't keep sleeping downstairs just to keep the dog happy or she'll be eternally exhausted.