Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavior problems seen in older dogs. Although younger dogs often display separation anxiety after their owner leaves the house, an older dog with separation anxiety will become very anxious when it senses its owner is about to leave the house.
When the owner does leave, the dog may become destructive, bark or howl, and possibly even urinate or defecate in the house. An older dog suffering from separation anxiety will often become overly excited when its owner returns home.
Older dogs often have a decreased ability to cope with changes in daily routines. Their vision and/or hearing loss may make them more anxious than normal, especially when they find themselves separated from their owner. Many veterinarians believe that neurological changes also limit an older dog’s ability to adjust to any changes in household routines.
- Treating separation anxiety in an older dog can be handled in several ways:
Don’t make a big deal when you do have to leave home – this only serves to reinforce the behavior.
Determine the length of time you can leave your dog alone before it becomes overly anxious. Start by leaving your home for short periods of time and then gradually increase the time you are gone, always returning before your dog becomes anxious. This may take several departures by you, or possibly as long as a couple weeks, so patience is the key.
Connect leaving the house with something good. When you’re ready to leave, give your dog a small treat. This may take its mind off your leaving. Anxiety can feed on itself, so if you prevent the anxiety from occurring when you leave, your dog may remain calm after you leave.
Make your dog’s environment as cozy as possible during the time you’ll be gone. A comfortable temperature, a soft bed, tuning your TV to Animal Planet, or playing soft, easy-listening music on the radio can have a soothing affect on your dog. Some dogs will be more relaxed if they can see outside, while others may become more anxious if left by a screen door or large window – especially if there happens to be small animals like cats or squirrels cavorting around outside. Only you can discover what’s best for your dog.
Teach your dog to relax. If you can teach your dog to relax by commanding it to “stay” for extended periods while you’re home, learning how to relax while you are gone will become much easier for your dog.
Change your departure signals. Many dogs understand that when the alarm goes off, it means today is a work day and you are going to leave the house. If your dog starts getting anxious as soon as it hears the alarm then it would be wise to introduce some small changes in your workday routine so your dog doesn’t know you’ll be leaving. For instance, pick up the car keys and then go sit on the couch. If it’s a Saturday, try getting up and dressing as if you’re going to work, but stay home. This may confuse your dog at first but should help break its association of the alarm going off with your leaving home.
If you are gone for extended periods during the day, leaving your dog all alone, you might want to have a friend or neighbor come in during the day to let your dog out and give it some exercise. Older dogs often need to go outside more often to urinate and defecate. By letting your dog outside more often, you may decrease its anxiety.
Some older dogs who have been house-trained for years, may start having “accidents” in the house. As with other behavior problems in older dogs, there can be several causes for this change in behavior. Medical conditions like colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, infections of the bladder or prostate, Cushing’s disease, and kidney or liver disease can result in an increased frequency of urination or defecation and could be the cause for these types of “accidents”. Also, degenerative joint diseases like hip dysplasia and arthritis can cause severe pain and make it difficult for the dog to get up and go outside to take care of its bodily functions. Treatment of these degenerative joint diseases with Winston’s Joint System will not only help heal your dog, but also allow it to regain mobility and can resolve any behavioral problems related to these diseases.
If degenerative joint diseases are contributing to the house soiling problem and arthritis or hip dysplasia is the cause, you may want to build a ramp to the outside so your dog won’t have to struggle going up and down stairs. Slick floor surfaces should be covered with non-slip area rugs or other material. If your dog urinates or defecates inside the house, thoroughly clean the area with an enzyme cleaner. And if your dog develops a need to urinate or defecate frequently, you may need to change your daily schedule or else find a friend or pet sitter who can take the dog outside when needed.
Some older dogs will become restless at night and stay awake, pacing through the house, and barking or issuing low, throaty howls. Pain from joint diseases, an increased need to urinate or defecate more often, a loss of vision or hearing, and neurological conditions can contribute to this behavior.
Older dogs need more love and attention than young puppies or young adult dogs. Give your beloved aging companion the love and care it deserves. You will be rewarded with more genuine love than you’ll receive from younger dogs.