More than a week has passed since my husband and I adopted “Stormy,” renamed “Jeremiah.” Overall, considering all the changes the little guy has gone through in this short amount of time, he is doing well. He certainly knows I’m his caregiver! Not a bad thing… except when I leave the house. Then, he whimpers, barks, and howls. He may be developing separation anxiety.
According to both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), separation anxiety can occur in dogs who experience a change in guardianship or family. Dogs which come from shelters and rescues, as Jeremiah did, become accustomed to certain caregivers while living at Hearts United for Animals, and since I’m the primary caregiver to our pets (feeding, going outside to potty, etc.), he prefers I be in sight. Sometimes he even whines when I’m just downstairs doing laundry!
Separation anxiety can be mild or severe. Behaviors range from barking and pacing to going potty in the house and destroying furniture and clothing.
There are many counterconditioning activities a pet parent can implement to desensitize a dog to its human leaving. An article on the ASPCA’s website advises, “For dogs with separation anxiety, counterconditioning focuses on developing an association between being alone and good things, like delicious food. To develop this kind of association, every time you leave the house, you can offer your dog a puzzle toy stuffed with food that will take him at least 20 to 30 minutes to finish.” Recommendations for such toys include KONG; not only are these toys nearly indestructible, but they also provide opportunities for your dog to enjoy a treat while you are gone and also get some good exercise. Try this for short trips at first, such as going to the grocery store, can help prepare your dog for your long away-times, such as school or work. Read the entire ASPCA article on separation anxiety here, including recommendations for more severe cases of the behavior: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety.
Jeremiah and our other dog Mary get along well; I often find him curled up next to her or at least within close proximity. Having our other dog around helps him, but not enough to keep him from carrying on when I’m gone. Needless to say, I’ll be working on some of these counterconditioning ideas recommended by the ASPCA!
Have you had a dog with separation anxiety? What did you do to help your four-footed friend not be so anxious in your absence?
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.