Separation anxiety is a type of behaviour that is surprisingly common amongst the canine population and it affects both the dog and its owner. Around 10% of all dogs will suffer from separation anxiety at some point in their life and severe cases of anxiety are the second highest reason for dogs being handed in to animal shelters; the highest being for financial reasons.
There are several explanations for why a dog may develop separation anxiety. A common reason can be when a dog’s routine is changed drastically, so for example, if a dog has been spending a lot of time with its family over a holiday period, then when everyone goes back to work or school the dog may become anxious when left on its own. Dogs are very social creatures and they are also creatures of habit; a dog with a rigid routine is a happy dog. Dogs that have been brought home from a shelter will also experience separation anxiety as they will be used to being surrounded by other dogs and volunteers and as such, may become anxious a lot quicker when left on their own.
Another reason for a dog suffering from separation anxiety can be due to the dog’s social development in the early stages of its life; research suggests that the first 6 to 8 weeks of a dog’s life are crucial for its personal development. A puppy should not be taken away from its mother and litter before this 8-week period and if it is then it may develop separation anxieties later on in life due to not forming the proper social bonds with its mother.
The symptoms of canine separation anxiety can come in many different forms, these signs may differ for each individual dog and so it is important to know all of the possible signifiers. Some signs can be present whilst the dog is still with its owner and can include the dog blocking the door when it realises that its owner is getting ready to go out, chewing on items that smell like the owner (such as shoes and socks) and constantly having to be next to the owner wherever they go.
The main symptoms of a dog suffering separation anxiety present themselves whilst the dog is on its own. The most frequently reported symptom is constant barking and whining; anxious dogs may also urinate or defecate around the house or become destructive by chewing, biting and ripping through items such as upholstered furniture and curtains. If a dog is frantically over-excited to see its owner upon reuniting and cannot not be calmed, then this may also be a sign that the dog has been suffering from separation anxiety.
If your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety then you should contact your vet who will be able to advise you on the best options available to help stem the behavioural tendencies shown by your dog; such options can include specialist canine behaviourists and dog classes for both you and your pet.