Being a pet parent can be extremely rewarding, but it also comes with its difficulties. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works over 8 hours per day. For most of the 63 million households with dogs, that means their pup is home alone for those 8 hours. This can cause anxiety and stress for humans, but anxiety can cause canines to go from loveable cuddlers to destructive dogs that are chewing through doors or couches for 8 hours.
For a pet owner who was responsible enough to make sure their dog is well-trained, coming home to a destroyed house is extremely frustrating. We can find some solidarity, however, as veterinary specialists believe that 20-40% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety worldwide. It’s important to know why your dog has this anxiety when you leave, if dog separation anxiety is permanent or not, and how to help your dog and yourself.
Why Does My Dog Destroy Things When I Leave?
The main cause for unusual or destructive behavior in dogs is emotional distress, which is often caused by separation from their human, who they’re most likely deeply attached to. Dogs with separation anxiety can demonstrate their stress in a multitude of ways, ranging from unusual behavior to escape attempts that could leave your pup severely injured.
It is unclear why some dogs get separation anxiety where others don’t. It’s possible, in a two dog household, to have one pet that’s completely fine, while the other trashes toys and pulls all of the stuffing out of his bed and generally demonstrating the worst in destructive chewing in dogs.
Being abandoned by a guardian, moving to a new house or apartment, or if a family member has passed away or moved can all cause flares in dog anxiety. A common cause for anxious pups is when their pet parent has a sudden change in schedule, by maybe getting a different shift at work or a new job entirely.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Separation Anxiety?
There are common symptoms when it comes to dog separation anxiety. The first step is when your dog shows any of these symptoms is to take a visit to the veterinarian to rule out any other causes. Some of these symptoms can be caused by diseases or other serious issues. If your vet rules them out, separation anxiety is the probable cause, especially if your dog demonstrates these behaviors only when you’re gone.
Persistent Howling or Barking
If you’ve ever noticed when you shut your door to head off to work that your dog immediately starts barking or howling, then separation anxiety is the likely cause.
It’s especially likely if you open your door and he stops barking and wags his tail excitedly. This type of barking or howling will likely continue long after you’ve left for the day.
Defecation and Urination
A nervous dog can sometimes urinate uncontrollably when excited. Anxious dogs may not have much control over urination or defecation while you’re away for the day. However, if your dog urinates or defecates while you’re home, then separation anxiety may not be the cause.
Another unusual behavior some dogs show when they are experiencing separation anxiety is coprophagia, which means your dog may be ingesting some or all of their excrement. And like defecating and urinating, your dog will probably not do this in front of you.
Pacing and Restlessness
If you allow your dog to hang out in the backyard throughout your work day, you may have noticed a worn down trail on the perimeters of your fence. This may be territorial, but it also could mean your dog has been anxiously pacing or trotting to cope with your absence. You may also notice this when you’re getting ready for work in the morning, and your find your dog is restless and pacing wherever you are.
Destructive Behavior In Dogs
Most destructive dogs can do a lot of expensive damage to your home and treasured possessions. You may only leave the house for a short time, but then come back to find a dog chewed remote, or dog chewed furniture.
Digging and chewing are two behaviors that can be the most destructive because they can actually do a lot of damage to both your home and your pet. Stressed dogs might claw at door frames, chew on furniture, or play too roughly with a furry family member. These habits can also be damaging to your pet’s health as this sort of destructive behavior in dogs might cause broken teeth or damaged paws and nails.
Like other behaviors, digging and chewing won’t usually occur when the pet owner is around. It’s also important to note that if you have a puppy that’s a chewer, it may not be separation anxiety. Puppies chew when they are teething, so for a young dog, if their chewing is paired with any other symptoms, then it’s time to look into fixing anxiety.
Attempts at escaping can be the most traumatizing behavior for you or your pet. Dogs may chew or claw their ways through doors. Stressed dogs have even been known to jump through windows, causing cuts and scrapes as well as damage to the house. This behavior can occur at any time throughout the day but won’t occur if the pet parent is present.
Does Dog Separation Anxiety Get Better?
The great news about dog separation anxiety is that it can be cured or, at the very least, minimized. There are many strategies and treatments for different levels of severity for separation anxiety. It can take a lot of time and patience, but the result of using these techniques will save you some frustration and help your dog feel more comfortable in your absence.
How Do I Get my Dog to Stop Destroying Everything?
Dog anxiety behaviors range from minor to severe, so it would make sense that there would be different levels and treatments for minor or severe dog anxiety.
Minor Dog Anxiety Treatment
For more minor cases of dog separation anxiety, a technique called counterconditioning can help solve the issues. Counterconditioning involves changing your dog’s anxious behaviors by associating your leaving for the day with something positive.
This process can be made easier with the help of your pet’s favorite treat. When you are about to leave, try giving your pet an interactive toy that’s stuffed with food. Some toys have a place for treats or snacks, which are good for chewing and keeping your dog distracted for the first half hour after you’ve left.
You can even hide these toys around the house, so when your dog has finished the first one, they can entertain themselves by looking for the others. Make sure to pick these toys up when you return home, so they are only associated with your absence.
Using a crate can also be useful because dogs may learn that being in a crate is safe and they can get their favorite treats. This would also minimize defecation and urination because dogs don’t typically use the bathroom in places they sleep.
Major Dog Anxiety Treatment
For the extremely anxious dog, you will also use counterconditioning techniques but with the addition of desensitization. Desensitization refers to eliminating fear and anxiety by gradually introducing your dog to more and more of what they fear, like your absence.
Start with frequent and short absences to show your dog that you will always come back. As he gets more and more comfortable, you can take longer trips, and eventually, you can spend extended periods away from home. However, keep in mind that there will be setbacks, and your dog will fall into old habits from time to time. If this happens, make your absences a little shorter. You can also ask a family member or friend to help you with this process as even the presence of another human can minimize your dog’s anxiety.
This can be a long process, but gradually exposing your dog will help keep them safe and happy as well as minimize their destructive behaviors throughout the process.
If desensitization and counterconditioning don’t work, there are many dog behavior specialists that are available to help find specific solutions for your pet.
What Do I Need to Remember about Dog Anxiety?
Dog anxiety is a reasonably common problem, and if your dog demonstrates any anxious behaviors and signs of distress, it’s not necessarily your fault. Having an anxious dog is a learning experience, but it only makes us stronger as pet parents.
Make sure you know the root cause of the problem before you try to fix it. A vet visit can help determine what your dog is suffering from and rule out any severe diseases or health issues.
Keep in mind that if your dog doesn’t actually have anxiety, these treatments will most likely be ineffective. If you’re certain about the cause of your dog’s behavior, then the treatments for minor and major dog anxiety can be beneficial.
Be patient with yourself and with your pet. These treatments can take a long time, but they will be worth it in the end.
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- Separation Anxiety | ASPCA