Separation Anxiety In Dogs

Separation anxiety in dogs is the fear of isolation oftenresulting in undesirable behaviors.  Infact it is one of the most common causes of canine behavior problems.  Beginning at birth puppies form attachmentsto their mother and litter mates.  Once apuppy is separated from its family it becomes attached to its new owner.  Attachment is the foundation of a good,healthy bond between owner and dog. However, when a dog becomes overly dependent on its owner problembehaviors can result.

Dogs can exhibit several different behaviors.  Some may only have one problem behavior whileothers may have several.  Most dogs sensewhen their owner is leaving and become anxious even before the owner has left.  The dog may follow the owner from room toroom, whimper, shake or even become aggressive as the owner tries to leave.  These dogs will often scratch and dig atdoors and windows in an attempt to follow their owner.  Chewing on household objects is also verycommon.  Some dogs have been known torelieve themselves in unacceptable locations such as by the door or even ontheir owner's bed.  Whining and barkingfor an extended period of time are also common. Some dogs actually become depressed and will not eat or drink whiletheir owner is gone.  When the ownerreturns, the dogs will become overly excited and engage in unusually longgreetings.

Some methods for treating this problem can include crate-trainingand obedience training.  Punishmentshould never be an option since it only increases the dog's anxiety with eachdeparture.  Your dog should slowly becomeaccustomed to staying alone which can be accomplished by crate-training when heis young.  The best method involvesplanned departures gradually increasing the amount of time the dog is leftalone.  The dog should not be givenattention prior to your departure or given attention and praise upon yourreturn.

Kirby stays in a large crate when I go to work.  His crate is large enough to hold his bed, a food dish, and some toys.  It has a water bottle attached to the side in case he gets thirsty.  If you don't want to use a crate try using baby gates to contain your dog to a specified area of the house. Some dogs are more comfortable if you leave the tv on or music playing softly in the background.  Also leave out a few of your dog's favorite toys.

I have a full time job away from home so Kirby was crate trainedfrom the beginning.  Just before I leaveI tell him to ‘kennel up’ and he jumps right into his crate.  I turn on the radio in the room so he hasmusic.  Sure hope he likes popmusic!  He used to cry in the beginningbut has since stopped.  When I arrivehome he quietly waits while I set down my purse, etc., and hang up mycoat.   When I walk into the room he is in he isstanding with one paw up, ready for me to open the crate door.  He remains quiet since he has learned I willonly open the crate door when he is calm. Once I open the door he jumps out showering me with kisses.  I don’t make my return a big deal and immediatelytake him outside so he can relieve himself. He has adapted very well to our routine so I never thought he had anyseparation anxieties until this past Thanksgiving.

Doug and I traveled with Kirby for a six hour drive to spend timewith family in Georgia for Thanksgiving. We stayed with my step-mom, Mildred, who has two little dogs of herown.  My daughter and her boyfriend alsojoined us so we had a full house.  Wewould leave the three dogs to play in the house whenever we went shopping orsightseeing.  About midweek Doug and Iwent to visit our son and granddaughter who live an hour away leaving Kirbybehind to play with the other dogs.  Weleft at ten that morning and arrived back around 10:30 that night.

The sad news is that Kirby chose to spend the day alone.  We were later told that as soon as we left hecried and scratched on the closed door to the bedroom we were using.  They opened the door for him and he spent theentire day in that room on the chair next to the bed.  He only left his self-assigned post to run tothe front door whenever he heard a knock or doorbell.  Upon seeing it wasn’t us he would go back tothe bedroom to continue his vigil.  He refusedto eat and only went outside to relieve himself because someone physicallycarried him outside.  They said he wouldrun straight to the bedroom once he was let back inside.   

We think he was staying close to ourbelongings so we wouldn’t forget to take him when we went home.  We quite simply had no idea!  Overall he enjoyed this trip but we canhonestly say we saw an increased joy in him when he was once again back in hisown home.

If you think your dog may suffer from separation anxiety it isimportant to take measures to alleviate the problem since it is not somethingthat will simply disappear with time. Talk to your veterinarian and please remember that your dog is not bador trying to make life miserable although it may sometimes feel that way.  He just needs the security and reassurancethat he isn’t being abandoned because you WILL return.