When left alone, many dogs will act out. They will begin barking or howling, destroy bedding and couches, whine and possibly urinate on carpets even though they are housebroken. When a dog is left alone it is stressful for them if they are not used to it, and when a puppy is first brought home it may be the very first time in their lives that they are separated from the pack they were born with, naturally causing stress. Our immediate reaction is to provide them with lots of attention and affection, socialize them with other dogs and play with them. However, this may actually be contributing to a problem later in life known as “simulated separation anxiety.” The difference between simulated separation anxiety and true separation anxiety is that simulated anxiety is a learned behavior brought about by incorrectly providing affection to dogs. One of the most common mistakes is to reward the dog with extra affection when you come home after being away for a while. This extra bit of affection over and above the normal amount reinforces that if the dog was howling and carrying on while you were gone, he is being rewarded for this behavior upon your return. His crying and acting out was a cry for attention, and if he receives that attention after performing this action for some time he then believes it is a reward. It has been noted that some dogs even interpret reprimanding as a reward due to the fact that they are given attention. The best method of dealing with simulated separation anxiety is continual reinforcement of rules and boundaries, as well as ongoing training. Gradually getting the dog used to being alone for longer and longer periods of time without affection or reinforcement of their behavior, as well as longer periods spent in a crate each day if you are crate training them.
True separation anxiety is actually a condition where the animal feels panic and depression when they are alone, leading to behaviors like howling, barking and destroying things. While many veterinarians will prescribe drugs in order to deal with the behaviors of these dogs, the drugs are not a solution and will only prolong the problem. A dog with separation anxiety must we worked with as regularly as possible, providing calm environments and further extending times spent in a crate or isolated area while you are gone. One of the major factors that comes into play with separation anxiety in dogs is exercise, and dogs who have not been tired out will tend to act out more when left alone. Once again, a combination of healthy diet, exercise and ongoing training from the time they are puppies is the best solution.
Separation anxiety in dogs can be stressful for both you and your pet, and the temporary solutions of drugging them to calm them down or isolating them in a locked room or crate without training them to be in that environment will have little chance of helping the dog deal with his anxiety. Ask your veterinarian about their suggestions on how to cope with this common issue.