Dogs are more than just pets – they're our furry family, and for handlers, they mean independence and freedom. But when it's time for you to head out the door and leave them behind, some of our pups can struggle with separation anxiety. You may notice some signs– the whining, the pacing, and those big eyes pleading with you. In this blog post, we're diving into why dogs get separation anxiety and, more importantly, how we can help them cope. Let's cut through the fluff and see what separation anxiety is, the signs they exhibit and how service dog handlers can ease your pups' stress when they're separated by you.
What is separation anxiety in dogs?
According to the Humane Society of the United States, separation anxiety in dogs “is a disorder that can develop when a pet is away from a human to whom they’re most bonded..,and can result in a spectrum of behavior…” In basic terms, it is your pup’s fear of being left alone. Separation anxiety can result in stress for both handlers and pups alike, and should be taken seriously.
What are some common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs?
- Excessive vocalization (howling, whining, and barking)
- Destructive behavior (chewing, digging, scratching, biting, etc)
- Soiling (urination or defecation)
- Drooling and panting
- Refusing to eat
- Excessive excitement when you return
Can service animals suffer from separation anxiety?
Yes! Although service animals are impeccably trained and have remarkable abilities, they too can suffer from separation anxiety. In fact, since handlers and their service animals have such an incredible bond and spend so much time together training, they can be susceptible to anxiety when their handlers are away.
How to alleviate separation anxiety in your service animal
Alleviating separation anxiety in service animals involves strategies used for all dogs. These are a combination of strategies to help them feel more secure and comfortable when left alone. These strategies include:
- Separation training
- This training includes gradually increasing the time your service animal is away from you.
- Create a safe place
- Designate a space that your dog goes to feel safe when you are not around. This can be a crate, a designated room or a dog bed. Anywhere your pup feels relaxed and safe should be the area they turn to when you are separated from them.
- Physical stimulation
- Regular walks and playtime can help expend energy and reduce anxiety.
- Mental stimulation
- Using toys, puzzles, or any type of brain teasers will help stimulate your service animal mentally and help to keep you pup away from destructive behaviors. This can help redirect their focus and alleviate boredom.
- Stick to a routine
- Establish a consistent daily routine with your service dog. Dogs often find comfort predictability, so having a set schedule can help reduce anxiety.
- Use therapeutic products
- Always consult with your veterinarian before using these products, but there are a lot of different over the counter and prescribed products that can help soothe the anxiety in your service dog.
In conclusion, our four-legged companions hold a special place in our hearts as beloved family members. Recognizing and addressing separation anxiety in dogs, especially in the context of service animals, is crucial for both their well-being and the harmony of the human-animal bond. By understanding the signs and symptoms of separation anxiety, service dog handlers can proactively implement strategies like separation training, creating a safe space, providing physical and mental stimulation, sticking to a routine, and exploring therapeutic products with guidance from a veterinarian. By prioritizing our service dogs' emotional health, we not only enhance their independence and freedom but also strengthen the unique connection we share with these incredible beings. Through thoughtful care and consideration, we can ensure that our service dogs experience a sense of security and comfort even when temporarily separated from their devoted handlers.