Dog and separation anxiety: symptoms and causes

The dog is man's best friend, but sometimes four-legged friends tie themselves a little too closely to their owners. The result is separation anxiety: it becomes impossible to leave the pet alone without showing strong signs of stress, restlessness and fear. However, these symptoms can indicate not only fears of separation, but also other problems. "Sorry, I felt so alone because you weren't there, I tore up a little paper": Dog with separation anxiety - Shutterstock / RB0

Separation anxiety usually manifests itself in the dog through certain behavioral problems: As soon as the loved one starts to leave the house, the affected four-legged friends show symptoms of stress. However, you should not make this diagnosis prematurely and without advice from the veterinarian. If you misinterpret the behavior of your protégé, he can not be helped properly if in doubt.

Symptoms of separation anxiety: Beware of misunderstandings

When dogs suffer from separation anxiety, fear can refer either to the absence of a particular person or to being alone as such. As a symptom, the affected dog shows problematic, sometimes dangerous behavior as soon as the fear-triggering situation arises or announces itself.

There are different degrees of separation anxiety: in mild cases, the four-legged friend can endure his fears for a while, in severe cases he can go crazy if the feared situation is only subtly announced.

Dogs, who generally cannot be alone, can usually be soothed by a companion, a dog sitter, or by being accommodated in a kennel where they have company. Four-legged friends, who are exclusively focused on a special favorite person and suffer from separation anxiety, usually cannot endure a moment without this person.

The following behavioral problems are typical symptoms of separation anxiety:

  • ● "Destruction": pillows, newspapers, papers, shoes, furniture, plants are bitten and torn; Doors and window frames are scratched
  • ● Constant barking, howling and / or whining
  • ● Uncleanliness, house cleanliness is forgotten
  • ● Coprophagia: dog eats faeces or other inedible things
  • ● Stereotypical behavior: pet goes up and down or spins in a circle
  • ● Attempts to escape, sometimes with injuries if the four-legged friend is alone in a room or his kennel
  • ● Symptoms of stress and anxiety: dilated pupils, heavy panting, excessive signals of appeasement

All of these signs are symptoms of separation anxiety only if they occur only in the context of the anxiety-causing situation. This means that as soon as the dog is no longer alone or his favorite person is present, he calms down again and the behavioral problems subside.

If not, there is another problem behind the unwanted or strange behavior. If your pet can take your absence, but shows "Destruction" or uncleanliness, as soon as it is alone, there can be boredom behind it. Check whether your dog has enough opportunities for employment and rest even without a fun program, whether he is generally physically and mentally busy according to his breed, personality and temperament without being overwhelmed.

Separation fear or not? Better go to the vet first

The apparent separation anxiety symptoms may actually indicate another health problem. Dogs instinctively try not to show weakness or pain when they are sick, so signs of illness and injury can often be coded and subtle.

The four-legged friends then try to get your attention to let you know that something is wrong - and this is often most effectively done through conspicuous behavior. Your first step when there are significant changes in behavior should be the way to the vet so that he can hopefully rule out an organic cause for the problems.

If everything seems to be in good physical condition, your dog is fully occupied and you can rule out mistakes in dog training with certainty, separation anxiety is likely. In severe cases and if you are not confident enough to tackle the mental problems of your four-legged friend on your own, seek help from an animal psychologist or a dog trainer trained in dog psychology.

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Possible causes of separation anxiety in the dog

Some dog breeds are believed to have a predisposition to develop separation anxiety. That doesn't mean that they get an anxiety disorder in every case, but they are more prone to it. This applies in particular to breeds that have been bred to be good and loyal partners to humans - for example when hunting. Dogs like the German Shorthaired Pointer, Cocker Spaniel or the Vizsla are therefore considered to be pre-loaded in this regard. But even companion dogs and "lap dogs" such as the Bichon Frisé, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, toy poodles or Havanese may not be alone. Active and intelligent dog breeds such as the Italian Greyhound, the Border Collie, German Shepherd and Australian Shepherd as well as loyal family dogs with a pronounced "will to please" such as Labrador and Golden Retriever also harbor an increased risk of separation anxiety.

The exact causes of separation anxiety cannot always be found out. However, there seem to be other risk factors besides the predisposition. As a rule, these are incidents that have damaged or destroyed the dog's basic trust and sense of security. Frequent changes of the confidant, moving house or the death or moving out of a loved one can be so destabilizing and traumatizing in susceptible dogs that they develop a panicked fear of being separated from their own heart or alone. Another possible trigger is a change in the dog's daily routine, which means that the dog remains alone longer than before.