Some Anxiety Behaviors Are Learned
Separation anxiety in our pets seems to be a common concern of pet parents. I often work with animals that display behaviors of separation anxiety. Some of these behaviors are simulated, which means the behaviors have been learned over time. True separation anxiety causes a dog to experience real stress during the absence of their pet parent.
With simulated separation anxiety, your dog knows that bad behavior means more attention, even when the attention is negative. Reprimanding your dog for bad behavior provides the attention that your dog is looking for.
True separation anxiety can be triggered by a change in environment, including a change in household membership or ownership, changes in routine, or watching the pet parent preparing to leave the home. Destruction of items, boredom, lack of exercise and extreme escape attempts can be associated with true separation anxiety.
There are other behaviors to take note of such as:
- Urinating or defecating on the floor, which will be seen upon the pet parents’ return
- Barking and howling that neighbors may make you aware of
- Digging, causing damage to flooring and windows in an attempt to escape
- Chewing up personal belongings
Ways to Reduce Pet Anxiety
There are many solutions to reducing and possibly resolving your pet’s anxiety. Pet parents can connect their departure with something that the dog really enjoys, such as a treat in a puzzle toy that will keep their mind busy. These special toys and treats need to be removed as soon as you return home in order for your dog to start associating the treat they love with your absence. This works best with dogs with only mild separation anxiety.
The treatments for moderate to severe separation anxiety can be trickier and take more time. This can involve consistent training and may need to be facilitated by a trained professional who is qualified in treating this disorder. Another possible solution is a medication treatment plan that would need to be developed by your veterinarian. Other alternatives may also be available to our pet parents. These can include having a professional pet sitter come in to spend time with your furry friend while you are away, doggy day care, or taking your dog to work with you.
It is also very important to provide your dog with physical and mental stimulation that can help lower their stress levels. Give your dog a minimum of 30 minutes of activity each day, preferably before you leave. This will help wear them out. Try playing fun and interactive games like tug of war, which I play often with my clients. Provide puzzle toys to provide needed mental stimulation.
As pet parents, we should be conscious not to punish our pooch for their anxiety-related behaviors. These unwanted behaviors are how your four-legged family member communicates with you that they are upset and under stress. How would you respond to being punished for having these types of feelings? My guess is not very well.
Take the time to figure out if your pet is exhibiting simulated behavior or true separation anxiety. Once this is established, you can then take the proper steps to help your fur baby be happier and healthier.
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