Leaving our furry friends alone at home can be heartbreaking and stressful. But it is also stressful coming home to find the garbage all over the floor, the couch legs in splinters and an angry note from the neighbors on the door (‘Your dog was howling again!’).
Even the most sweet-tempered, well-behaved dog can suffer from separation anxiety. So what’s the deal?
Why Do Dogs Suffer from Separation Anxiety?
Dogs are pack animals. Therefore, when they are separated from their families, they’re deprived of important social interaction. Particularly, dogs that are apprehensive or fearful to begin with (or have been re-homed) are at risk of developing the destructive symptoms of separation anxiety.
It’s important to note that separation anxiety can manifest after a traumatic event: an injury, death of a loved one, or even bringing a new baby home. All of these disrupt the daily routine of doggy life and can trigger excessive attachment to their humans.
Recognizing the Symptoms
The most common sign that a dog is experiencing separation anxiety is the destruction of objects within the home. This might be accompanied by howling, scratching at the doors and windows, or defecating in inappropriate areas. Pacing, panting and drooling are signs of stress that your dog might express when they realize that you’re leaving.
In extreme cases, dogs can escape their enclosures. This is hazardous because they can severely harm themselves trying to wiggle out of windows, doors or fences. Also, there are dangers awaiting escaped dogs loose in a city or in the country, from cars to animals to people.
Preventing your dog from escaping is priority number one. The safest bet is to create a dog run with a kennel, which allows your dog to seek shelter inside while still having access to the outdoors. Otherwise, install (or fortify) a fence to ensure that your yard can handle your dog’s attempts to get out.
Priority two is usually safeguarding your valuables from chewing, which might be an exhaustive process. You should place chew toys around your dog’s enclosure so that he has something to direct his attention to. Unfortunately, you might find yourself needing to crate your dog so that he can’t cause major damage—especially if your fences and safeguards aren’t holding up.
Finding a safe crate is imperative! Many cages, even ones made from wire, can be chewed and bent. Some dogs will try to wiggle loose of their crates, which can sometimes result in getting snagged in the wreckage—this can be dangerous. Research the best crate for your dog and always make sure to expend their energy before penning them up, even if it’s a simple walk around the block.
Some dog owners will choose to acquire another animal to keep an anxious dog company – either a dog or a cat, usually. Other owners will begin their day with strenuous exercise so that their dog is tuckered out during their absence and then leave a radio or television on to keep the house from being completely silent. Also, you may consider conditioning your dog to not react so enthusiastically to your coming and going from the house.
Of course, the best thing you can do for your dog is to arrange your schedule so that you can come home during your lunch hour, or at least walk him after you get home from work. If that isn’t feasible, arranging for a dog walker goes a long way.
Dogs, like people, thrive when they have consistent interactions with their families. Just remember that they miss you as much as you miss them, and take some steps to make the separation as tolerable as possible. You, your dog, your neighbors and your couch legs will be happier for it.