Fido’s Back to School Blues

by Jennifer Phillips

Pleading Pug

All he really wants is for you to stay home. (Courtesy flickr.com)

It is back to school time, which means that schedules become busier and we spend less time at home. Sometimes these changes can cause us a great deal of stress. What we may not realize though is that our pets may also be affected by these changes. Sometimes they are just happy to see us when we return home. Other times, they may misbehave and wreak havoc while we are away. While this may be an issue with improper training, it is possible that your pet is dealing with separation anxiety from your absence.

Although there isn’t a clear answer on why some animals develop a problem with separation anxiety, there are a number of situations that have been associated with the development of this problem. The high rate of separation anxiety that is seen in shelter dogs points to changes in the normal structure and routine of the family as a likely cause, according to WebMD. Even an animal that is used to being with their family who is then left alone for the first time, whether it is at home or at a kennel, may become traumatized over the separation.

Dogs who experience separation anxiety may exhibit a variety of behaviors due to the stress of being separated from their owners. They may begin destructive chewing and digging, pacing, whining, barking, and howling, urination and defecation. It is also possible that the dog may try to escape from a confined area. These behaviors are not only frustrating to owners, but may also result in injury to the scared animal.

If your dog is acting out in these ways only when you are not present, then it is likely that separation anxiety is the root of the problem. You may also notice a few other signs that could indicate that your dog is experiencing separation anxiety. He might constantly follow you around you’re at home and may exhibit overly enthusiastic greeting behaviors. You might also notice that he becomes anxious or excited when you begin to prepare to leave the house. The first thing that you should do is determine whether you are actually dealing with separation anxiety, rather than some underlying medical condition that produces the same behaviors. Once you have ruled this out, you can begin working with your pet to help him to overcome his fears.

For mild cases of separation anxiety, simple actions such as offering a treat or a food dispensing toy each time you leave home, and providing adequate physical and mental stimulation when you are home can help alleviate the problem. It is also important to keep greetings and departures as calm and stress free as possible. Since dogs often learn cues that you are about to leave, you can change his expectations by sometimes preparing to leave and then sticking around instead. If your pet has a more serious problem with separation anxiety, you will need to take things slowly when trying to accustom him to increasing lengths of time away from you. If at all possible, try to avoid leaving your pet alone unless it is part of the retraining process. This can help prevent any additional and unnecessary stress.

When dealing with separation anxiety, there are also some actions that some owners may be tempted to take that will not help, and may even make the situation worse. Probably the most important thing for you to keep in mind is that your dog isn’t trying to get back at you for going away. He is simply responding to the highly stressful situation of being away from you. Punishing a dog that is experiencing separation anxiety is not going to improve the situation, and may even make things worse. Likewise, obedience training, while helpful for general behavior training, is not the answer because it is not an issue of misbehaving; it is a panic response. Crating the animal may protect your home from damage, but will do nothing for correcting the problem, and could make things worse if they injure themselves trying to escape. Some owners may also be tempted to get another dog as a companion, but even this doesn’t typically improve the situation because he is responding to being away from you, not to being alone. Trying to understand and be aware of the reasons for any pets’ behaviors can often help owners overcome many challenges.

Separation anxiety can be a challenging and sometimes frustrating problem for dogs and their owners. Dogs are not the only animal to suffer from separation anxiety, as it can affect other pets as well. In any case, the most important things to remember are to be patient and understanding when dealing any pet related hurdle. Their unconditional acceptance and companionship continue to make it worthwhile.

Sources:

http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/separation_anxiety.html
http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/top-tips-overcoming-separation-anxiety
http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/separation-anxiety-dogs

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