Rescue Dogs and Separation Anxiety
You’ve gone through all of the steps of finding the perfect rescue dog for you and your family. Everything is going great, and the horizon looks clear. Yet, one day, you come home to a dog bed that’s been shredded and the stuffing has been strewn across the floor. Your very cute and very shameful dog waits, wagging their tail slightly and trying their best to avoid eye contact.
It’s easy to become upset in these situations, and trust us, it’s about as upsetting or even more so for your dog. While your pup could be suffering from boredom, it’s even more likely that he or she might be having some separation anxiety. If it’s not treated, it could worsen.
However, if your dog is showing signs of anxiety, hope is not lost. There are ways to fix their anxiety, so you and your dog can get back to the happy times. It’s important to start with what separation anxiety is and its symptoms.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety for dogs is much like anxiety for humans. However, for dogs, there seems to be nothing they can do about it, so their anxiety presents itself in negative and potentially harmful ways.
This anxiety and their behaviors will happen when their humans leave for an outing or go to work for the day. This distance from their parents can be upsetting to them, especially if they are rescue dogs. If your dog was abandoned by their previous owner, then he or she might be more likely to develop this kind of separation anxiety.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
There is a range of symptoms your dog might have that indicate separation anxiety. These symptoms can be mild and very severe, but usually there will be a combination of symptoms.
Barking and Whining
This is one of the more common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs. When you leave the room or the house, you might hear your dog whining, barking, or howling in attempts to cope with your absence. They might do this for a few minutes, but for some dogs, this behavior might last for hours.
If your dog barks when you’re around, it’s likely that they are just forming the habit of barking without the separation anxiety. Dogs might do this because they are bored or if they want your attention. Barking and whining accompanied with your absence is likely due to anxiety caused by their separation from you.
Defecating or Urinating
While some dogs are nervous urinators when you come home or if they meet new people, dogs with anxiety will defecate or urinate only when the pet parent isn’t at home.
In extreme cases, dogs may end up eating their own feces to cope with the anxiety.
If you’ve ever noticed a trail of dirt in the grass of your backyard where your dog has been running back and forth, it might be due to separation anxiety. Dogs will also march in circles or along the walls or by doors in the home when their human is away.
Destruction or Chewing
This is how our situation started, with your dog tearing up their bed and leaving the pieces all over the house. Dogs with separation anxiety may chew on furniture, dig in the backyard, or destroy their toys and other parts of the home.
As some dogs may decide to chew on doors or wooden parts of furniture, they might end up breaking their teeth or ingesting sharp pieces of whatever they destroy.
In severe cases, dogs may even try to escape. They may do this by jumping through windows, or they might gnaw through the front or back door.
If your dog is young or is a puppy, chewing might be a sign that they are teething. If your older dog chews, it might be a sign of boredom. If they chew excessively when you or your family members are home, it’s probably not due to stress and anxiety.
While dogs can have a variety of these symptoms, it’s important to make sure that your pet doesn’t have any medical issues. Behavior changes can be the result of neurological conditions as well as other diseases.
Why Rescue Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety
Like other dogs, there are several reasons why dogs will get separation anxiety. Just because you have a rescue dog, it doesn’t mean they will develop this type of anxiety. However, because of trauma, they could be more prone to it.
If there is a change in their environment, like being abandoned or changing where they live, they might become more anxious. Changes in schedule, if for example, you take on a new shift at work, dogs may have to adjust, and if they can’t, they will become anxious.
Other changes, like the loss of a family member or even the addition of a family member or furry child, might cause your dog to develop separation anxiety.
Just as dog separation anxiety presents in several ways, it will be treated in various ways depending on the causes and the severity. The goal behind treating dog anxiety is to take away the stressor. Since you likely can’t stay home all day, there have to be other ways to help relieve the stress and help teach your dog to cope with their anxiety.
Making sure that your pup gets the appropriate exercise is one of the best ways you can care for your dog. Dogs, in general, need several walks throughout the day. They also need a lot of playtime depending on their size, breed, and age.
For smaller and older dogs, they will need less exercise than larger and younger dogs. Pay attention to your dog’s breed as well. Some breeds like border collies and labradors have a lot of energy while bulldogs and Great Danes tend to be more docile.
Taking your dog for a long and exhausting walk or run in the morning before you go to work might help them sleep through their anxiety.
Counterconditioning and Desensitization
Counterconditioning and desensitization are processes where you gradually expose your dog to their stressor, which is, in this case, your absence. In addition, you’ll also try to associate your absence with something good. This is usually a toy or your dog’s favorite snack.
You can also get puzzle toys that will distract your dog as you prepare to leave for the day. Giving them toys and snacks when you leave will help them learn that your leaving isn’t a bad thing. In addition, it’s a good idea to take these toys when you get home.
Next, you’ll need to practice leaving. This may take a little time and patience, and you’ll need to start small. You can start by leaving the house for short periods of time. Over time, you’ll be able to extend your absences, depending on your dog’s reaction.
If dog separation anxiety doesn’t resolve after these steps, it might be time to consult a professional or try medication.
Rescue dogs need a lot of love and patience. When they develop separation anxiety, it can be especially taxing for them. However, eliminating the stressors and reducing anxiety can reduce their anxiety or even cure it.