What is separation anxiety?
This disorder is caused by distress at being parted from their owner. It seems to be more common in some breeds than others and may partly be the result of poor socialisation in puppyhood. Dogs are naturally pack animals and don’t like being separated from their ‘pack’ (that’s you!).
The condition is more common in dogs that have been repeatedly re-homed or moved to new owners when they were less than 1 year old, probably because these animals feel very insecure. The problem becomes worse because when someone re-homes a dog from a kennel and finds out it is destructive, the poor dog is often returned to the kennel for re-homing again which makes the problem worse.
What triggers separation anxiety?
The problem can start after a period of separation e.g where the dog has been in kennels and then returns to the house. Dogs are also more likely to show separation anxiety when their owner returns to work after a long period at home, e.g. after maternity leave or the school summer holidays. The poor dog has been used to plenty of attention and company and all of a sudden he is alone in a quiet empty house. It is a more common problem in young dogs who can start to get anxious when they sense their owner is about to leave.
When their owner returns many dogs are submissive and cringe amid the debris because they have previously been punished by an angry owner coming home to the mess.
Is there treatment to help my dog?
There is help at hand but you must be prepared to put a lot of time and effort into helping your dog overcome his or her fears. Never punish your dog if you come home to a mess – this will only make the problem worse. Your dog is destructive because he is anxious about being left alone. If you punish him he learns to associate the combination of you and the mess with punishment. When you are gone he is left in the house alone and becomes destructive. Now he is alone with the mess and becomes more anxious because when you appear and there is mess he is punished. Basically, treatment is aimed at gradually getting your dog used to longer and longer periods alone. Your vet will be able to give you advice about managing the problem and, in particularly tricky cases, may recommend that you and your dog talk to a qualified dog behaviourist. With personal advice and some effort most dogs improve over time.
There are drugs that your vet can prescribe to help your dog overcome his anxiety. These drugs can make treatment with behavioural management work more quickly.