Dogs love nothing more than spending time with their favourite people, especially people like you who they consider part of their family pack. Most dogs do adapt well to spending time alone, provided they receive enough exercise, entertainment and attention. However, for those dogs who don’t cope well, this can become a real problem.
Separation anxiety is a behavioural problem in dogs who are heavily dependent on their owners, often becoming extremely distressed in their absence. It’s unclear why separation anxiety develops, but it’s thought to often be triggered in response to a shift in your dog’s life such as a change in family, schedule, residence or household membership. There are six main signs of separation anxiety to be aware of:
- Disruptive / noisy behaviour. If your dog persistently barks, howls or whines whenever you’re away from home, your dog is probably trying to call you back home. It may actually be your neighbours who let you know about this type of behaviour, as your dog is likely to be quiet and content whenever you’re around.
- Inappropriate toilet breaks. It’s not uncommon for dogs with separation anxiety to urinate or defecate in random places when you’re out. Because your dog relies heavily on their sense of smell to find their way around, they assume the same is true for you. By making the home smell like the pack, they believe you’ll have a better chance of picking up the scent and finding your way home.
- Destructive behaviour. When left alone, some dogs may scratch at closed doors, dig up carpets, or even chew on door frames in their desperate efforts to be reunited. This anxiety can also cause your dog to chew or destroy items which carry your scent, such as shoes, clothing or even your pillow.
- Attempting escape. Some dogs will try to escape when their owners are out, doing their best to find you and bring the pack back together. Escape attempts by dogs with separation anxiety can sometimes result in injury, as they often give little thought to the potential side effects of their actions.
- Clinginess. You may notice this behaviour while you’re still at home, especially whenever you’re preparing to leave. If your dog sticks to you like a shadow as you move around the house, it’s likely they’re suffering from separation anxiety. This excessive dependency on your presence means that any time your dog is left alone will be an incredibly stressful experience.
- Hyperactivity. Another sign that your dog may have separation anxiety is if they become incredibly overexcited or even hyperactive when it comes time for you to depart or when you return again. Your dog acting in this way before you leave may be their attempt to convince you to stay, while an overly enthusiastic welcome back home suggests that your dog may have been pining for you all day.
When your dog ‘acts out’ in any of these ways, remember that it’s a panic response and not because your dog is trying to punish you. As pack leader, it’s your job to help make time away from you a normal part of your dog’s life, and to reduce any associated stress as much as possible.