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Separation Anxiety in Dogs: How to Deal with It


If you have ever come home to a completely destroyed house, a ripped-up couch, a table in shambles, clothing and shoes torn to pieces, you know what it’s like to have a dog with separation anxiety. While it might not always manifest in that extreme manner, dogs with separation anxiety are prone to destruction.

Underlying Causes

Dogs are just like wolves, they feel an inherent need to be with their pack. Unlike wolves, they are domesticated, and you have become their pack. Even if it is just you and Rover, he recognizes that you are the sole member of his group, and when you go away, it can be very stressful. Separation anxiety can develop the moment you first leave your dog home alone.

It may also be a result of having been abandoned at a shelter (if you adopt a shelter dog), or a stressful boarding experience. Most notably, if a member of the family (pack) suddenly disappears—for example, going off to college or a death. The death of a companion pet may be especially hard on your dog. The causes are psychological for your dog. All he knows is that someone in his pack who was here before suddenly isn’t and that creates a disturbance in his world.

The problem some owners face is that some dogs will display separation anxiety and other dogs will not, even if they are put in the exact same circumstances. Of our two dogs, only one has dealt with separation anxiety. The other, even when she was a puppy, seemed as if she could care less whether we stayed in the house or left her alone. Often, there is no way to know if your dog will suffer from anxiety until they are left alone in the house.

What It Looks Like

Separation anxiety has a spectrum of responses. Some dogs may simply whine when you leave them alone, but after a while, settle down and are fine. When you return home, he will probably be very excited to see you, and may even follow you around the house. Our youngest dog does this; even if you simply walk from one room to another for a glass of water, he will be on your heals.

More extreme cases include barking, howling, scratching at doors, and agitation when he notices you are preparing to leave the house. On the very extreme end of the spectrum, there are the cases where dogs have been known to chew up the entire house, ripping up carpet and furniture, and even urinating or defecating in the house, even when the dog is otherwise properly house-trained. Some owners see this as some sort or retaliation on the part of their dogs, but in reality, it is a simple panic response.

How to Help Your Dog

1. Desensitization – As with most undesirable behaviors, desensitization is the best way to teach your dog to stop making departures and arrivals a point of anxiety. This works best with acute cases. When you treat leaving the house and coming home more casually, your dog will learn to treat it this way as well. When you leave, don’t pay extra attention to your dog. This may trigger great separation anxiety in the long run. When you get home, do not acknowledge him until he has settled down, and then pet him calmly, without making a big deal about the time you have spent apart.

2. Kenneling – While this may actually increase anxiety in some dogs, if you have a kennel and teach your dog to use it from a young age, it will become a place of comfort and safety. On the advice of the shelter staff, we started kenneling our oldest dog as soon as we brought her home. The “den-like” atmosphere of the kennel helps her feel at home and calm, even when we cannot be there to comfort her. Now that we have two dogs, we “kennel” them in a hallway together. Putting a blanket or an item of clothing that you have used or worn in the kennel, will help a nervous dog.

3. Baby sitters – If you are going to be away from your dog for an extended period of time, asking a neighbor or a friend, someone your dogs are already familiar with, to check in on, feed, and play with your dogs can go a long way towards ebbing separation anxiety. Even if you are just going to have to stay late at work, having someone look in on them shows them that they haven’t been forgotten.

4. Doggy day care – If your dog really cannot stay home alone, a doggy day care in your area may be the next best option. For only a small daily fee, your dog will have plenty of space to roam, as well as all the attention he needs. Be sure to thoroughly research any day care before dropping off your dog, however, as they can be breeding grounds for heartworm and fleas.

5. Friends – Especially if you have two pets and one dies, providing your anxious dog with a new friend might mitigate the feeling of loss and loneliness. They will have someone to play with even when you’re away, and might not even notice if you have to be gone for an extended period of time. Adding a dog with an easy-going personality into the house may help to ease a more worried and hyperactive dog.

6. Medications – In very extreme cases, ask your vet for an anti-anxiety or sedative medication for your dog. In our house, the oldest is the easy-going personality, and the youngest is the anxious one. If we leave them alone for more than day, even with her relaxed presence in the house, he will still tear up carpet and shoes any chance he gets. We asked our vet for an anti-anxiety, which our dog-sitter gives him in the morning, and which helps him not be as anxious throughout the time we are gone.

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