What is canine separation distress?
Dogs are very social creatures, so they want to spend as much time with their human as they can. If you leave them alone for too long, they can get very agitated and unhappy, and may express these emotions loudly and even destructively.
While no dog likes to be separated from its owner, and may act out as a result, the issue becomes separation distress when the dog’s behaviour serves no purpose and is causing problems that will require treatment to resolve.
How to know if my dog is suffering from separation distress?
Symptoms to watch out for are destructive behaviour, excessive and sustained barking, signs of activity near exits, loss of bowel/bladder control, reduced interest in food, and agitation when the owner is about to leave. Note that all of these are triggered by the owner’s departure or absence, so if your dog exhibits any of these symptoms while you’re in the house, you may have a different issue.
While a distressed dog will likely exhibit some of these symptoms, the occurrence of any individual symptom doesn’t automatically mean distress. If unsure, bring in a dog behaviour specialist to make a diagnosis and help you resolve the issue. However, they can’t simply fix the problem for you. Separation distress needs to be treated over time by gradually getting your dog adjusted to being without you.
What can I do to reduce my dog’s symptoms?
A chew toy is a good first step to combat your dog’s frustration and anxiety, but there are others. Make your departure a good thing for your dog, by giving a treat as soon as you pick up your keys, or even better, arranging for a dog walker to arrive just as you’re about to leave.
In addition to the positive association, having your dog walked will provide vital exercise and reduce the frustration that can contribute to separation distress. Rosie Pets provides a convenient and customisable dog walking service, to help your dog stay happy and healthy.
Medications are also an option, but must only be used as part of an overall treatment plan. Note also that these may have some physiological side effects, and will mask the effectiveness of your behavioural efforts to reduce symptoms as well.
Surprisingly, getting a second pet (even another dog) has shown to be ineffective at reducing separation distress symptoms.
Dog sitting, the safest solution
If you know you’re going to be out of the house for longer than your dog can handle, dog sitters are your best bet. Having someone you trust stop by to look after your pet breaks up your absence into two smaller chunks, while giving your dog lots of love and attention in between. Rosie Pets’ dog sitting can be combined with a walk and multiple visits per day to brighten up your pooch while you’re out.