Dog Separation Anxiety: Common in Large Breeds
You know the situation, your living it. You have a young dog, about to be a year old soon. He has grown physically at an exponential rate! From a fun, perfect-to-cuddle size to a large, boisterous pre-teen who loves to run, jump and chase. He is easily over excitable and oblivious of his 60lbs or more of weight while he engages in play inside the house and outside. All of this is fine. The problem is when no one is home…
Even though you chose crate training, this dog does most of his destruction when the family is away during the day. He has chewed his way through kennels and destroyed clothing, shoes and furniture all the while he is free and unattended. When the family returns, they find a hyperactive dog awaiting them, and a destroyed house, which takes hours to clean the path of destruction.
This is a familiar scene for many dog owners. You bring your dog to the veterinarian to find out why they behave this way and you are given a diagnosis – separation anxiety. There are medications and behavioral training that will help. But is it really a medical condition?
Simulated Separation Anxiety versus True Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Most separation anxiety in dogs is actually simulated separation anxiety. The American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMS, 2012) declared that separation anxiety is the most common behavioral diagnosis in dogs up to 40% of the time. Veterinarians are often referring their clients to canine behavioral specialists for treatment. How do you distinguish between simulated and actual separation anxiety? Can you tell the difference?
Separation anxiety presents similar in both scenarios; mass destruction of clothing, furniture, garbage, food, dog supplies and the home, only when you are away. Something like “who did all this?!” “Was this you?” “What happened here?” “Are you okay?” The next thing the owner does is clean up everything while the dog often feels good about the owners return and reassurances and settles quietly and calmly nearby.
The second scenario is similar with the mass destruction of clothing, furniture, garbage food and dog supplies and the home. Upon returning home, the VERY FIRST thing the owner does is ignore the dog and assess the mess. Quietly and calmly the owner cleans up, the dog may be restless or may settle, may find a private spot to go a laydown. There may be urination or feces also throughout the house or in the crate or bed.
Owner as Pack Leader When True Separation Anxiety Exists
The difference with the dog in scenario two is many things that at first glance may seem the same. First off, the owner is calm and assertive. The owner does not over engage the dog prior to leaving or upon return. So the dog is not in a hyperactive state when interacting with the owner.
The dog in scenario two, made the same type of mess but in a different way. The dog exhibits the same type of destructive behavior whenever the owner is removed from the environment, whether for a short time or long time. The destruction is consistent. EVERYTIME the owner is gone, the destruction occurs.
The dog in this scenario also has different behaviors and symptoms than the dog in the first scenario. The dog is the second scenario may bark incessantly for the entire time the owner is away. Barking or whining, with high pitched yelping are common. The barking and whining is prolonged and causes a disturbance further to neighbors. The dog may salivate excessively or yawn often.
A tell-tale difference in scenario two is also that the dog temporarily loses voluntary control of bowel or bladder in the crate or in the home. The dog may also eat the stool. These behaviors and symptoms mentioned in scenario 2 describe a true separation anxiety, as the dog’s fear of separation is almost to the point of a phobia and interferes greatly with their psychological well-being and ability to cope on a daily basis.
Signs of True Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Treatment For All Dogs With Separation Anxiety
If you have decided that your dog has simulated separation anxiety, providing a more consistent routine with more exercise and mental simulation can help. Look into dog daycares in your area, or a local service such as rover.com in Canada to find people in the community who can help with walks and dog sitting when you are away. Learn to set boundaries with your dog, but also look at fun ways to enjoy connecting with your dog and building a bond of trust, where you are clearly the boss!
Exercise and mental stimulation is also important in true cases of separation anxiety. Large dog breeds can be very intelligent and need lots to do because they usually have lots of energy and stamina! In addition, try to find toys that will provide long-term fun for your dog and help keep him or her occupied while you are away. Some large breeds dogs are aggressive chewers, so finding a safe long-lasting chew toy is great! You may also consider treat puzzles for fun and mental simulation.