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What Causes Separation Anxiety In Dogs

Your life is made up of an endless parade of work, school, family outings, church, hanging out with friends, going to see movies and eating at yummy restaurants. You have family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and so many other people who support you and become a part of your life.

Your dog, has only you.

Think about it. Your dog doesn’t go to work. Dogs don’t have pals to play with at school. They don’t go on fun dates. They can’t call a friend when they’re lonely. They live most of their lives at or near your home and when they are away from home they are almost always with you. It’s no wonder they go out of their minds with happiness when you come home everyday. You are their source of companionship, food, entertainment and love. Let’s face it, you are the center of your dog’s universe.

While many dogs can find some way to occupy themselves while you are away for hours at a time, others can become fearful or anxious while you are away. This anxiety can range from a general unsease to full blown doggy panic attacks that result in undesirable behaviors and even self harm. When a dog becomes hyper-attached to one or more of its caregivers it becomes a clinical case of separation anxiety.

While there are no clearly defined causes of separation anxiety there are several theories and correlations that seem valid. First of all, the cause of the separation anxiety is almost never the owners fault. You didn’t over-cuddle them, or spend too much time with your puppy to cause this over-attachment. Sometimes separation anxiety is triggered by a traumatic event, sparked from abandonment or neglect from a previous owner and sometimes it simply manifests seemingly out of the blue. It can happen to any dog, although some breeds do see more prevalence than others.

Three Possible Causes Of Canine Separation Anxiety  

#1. Previous Neglect Or Abandonment

Enough rescue dogs develop separation anxiety in their new forever homes to warrant a mention as a possible cause. Especially in dogs that were abused or suddenly surrendered by their previous owners, it seems that hyper-bonding can occur when they finally have a loving home. Totally reasonable,  they don’t want the best thing to ever happen to them to go away.

#2. Genetics And Breeding

As pack animals, dogs are naturally inclined to be social animals. They love being around people and other dogs. This innate quality is what led people to domesticate them and over thousands of years of breeding they molded dogs to be a loyal constant companion to humans. Over the years though, we developed into a society that doesn’t allow for our dogs to be by our side at all times, creating some dissonance between how dogs feel about us and how much time we have to spend apart.

#3. Traumatic Triggers

A cool as a cucumber dog full of confidence can also fall victim to separation anxiety if triggered by a traumatic event. A traumatic event doesn’t necessarily have to involve violence, for a pet trauma can be something that scared them or anything that significantly changes their routine. Examples of trauma or triggers could be: moving, divorce, their human getting really sick,  a bad storm, loss of a loved one, addition of a spouse or baby, or their human getting a new job that significantly alters their schedule.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Truly Has Separation Anxiety?

All dogs are sad when you leave them but how quickly that sadness either dissipates or turns into fear will tell you if your dog has clinical separation anxiety. Pooches can’t tell us what’s bothering them with words so they use their behavior to express themselves. It is estimated by veterinarians that between 20-40% of negative dog behavior cases are the direct result of canine separation anxiety. Sadily, some of the these very behaviors are what will lead to a dogs surrender at a shelter.

Since actual separation anxiety is a clinical diagnosis you’re going to have to enlist the help of your family vet to get to the bottom of things. Your vet will also first rule out any medical issues that might have the same symptoms of separation anxiety. Once your dog is given a clean bill of health then the possibility of separation anxiety can be explored.

When you get ready to leave the house your dog might whimper, sit on your feet, hide or bark to let you know they want you to to stay. After you leave they might cry or run from window to window trying to see you one last time before you go. Often times they will then settle in to their normal routine, eat, take a nap, play and do whatever secret things dogs do when we’re away. Other dogs unravel into puppy panic mode. They might run around the house recklessly, bark or howl endlessly (don’t worry, your neighbors will let you know), chew up everything in sight or pee all over the place. There can be a lot of other manifestations but these are a few big ones. There have even been incidents of dogs throwing themselves at doors and windows trying to go after their owners which can lead to serious harm for your doggo.

It’s important to realize that your pup’s behavior isn’t meant to punish you, your dog isn’t mad at  your for leaving, it’s afraid. Try to work with your vet or a dog behaviorist to minimize or eradicate the negative behaviors and help your dog recover from separation anxiety so you can be a happy family again. In rare extreme cases a vet might prescribe medication for your dog but most dogs will be able to use natural remedies, holistic approaches and behavior therapy to help them be comfortable with being left alone.

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