show your support

Does Your Labrador Have Separation Anxiety?

Does your Labrador Retriever start to whine when you pick up your keys? Does he scratch at the door after you leave? Do your neighbors complain that he barks all day? While these things might seem like normal dog behavior, or perhaps behavioral problems, they are all potential signs of separation anxiety. Keep reading to learn more about what separation anxiety is and how to deal with it.

What is Separation Anxiety

If a dog is left alone for too long, or if it happens too often, they are prone to developing separation anxiety. This is particularly common in breeds that bond closely with their owners and those that need a lot of daily attention. Labrador Retrievers are an adaptable breed but they are also very people-oriented and they do not like being left alone for long periods of time. Sometimes having another dog around can make things easier, but many Labs still prefer the company of people. If your Lab tends to follow you from room to room, whines when you get ready to leave, and goes crazy when you come back, it could be a case of separation anxiety – here are some other signs:

  • Digging or scratching at the door
  • Scratching at the window
  • Attempting to escape the house
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation
  • Howling, whining, or barking
  • Destructive behavior and chewing

A dog can develop separation anxiety at any time, but it is often triggered by a traumatic event or a significant life change. If you suddenly change your dog’s routine, if a member of the family leaves, or if you suddenly start leaving your dog alone a lot, he may develop separation anxiety.

Tips for Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Dogs

The best way to deal with separation anxiety in dogs is to desensitize them. Basically, you want to take your dog’s negative response to being left alone and turn it into a positive, or at least a neutral one. For mild cases, it may work to give your dog a special toy or treat right before you leave and then take it away as soon as you come home. Your Lab will learn that he only gets the treat when you go away and it will help him form a positive association with your leaving.

In more severe cases, you may have to work with your dog to neutralize his response. For example, you might need to desensitize your dog first to the signs of leaving – pick up your keys then sit on the couch for a while instead of leaving. Put on your shoes but don’t leave the house. Whatever behavior causes your dog to become anxious, work to reduce the negative association with those actions. At some point you can also start working with your dog to get him used to being left alone for a few minutes at first and gradually work your way up to longer periods. Positive reinforcement will be very important during this type of training.

Each dog is unique and so are the causes for separation anxiety. If you are able to identify the cause for your dog’s behavior you can talk to your vet or to an animal behavior specialist to come up with a way to deal with the issue. In severe cases, giving your dog some medication to help him relax might be the best option but this should only be done under a veterinarian’s supervision.

Photo credit: Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock