Dog Separation Anxiety

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If your dog scratches at the door, cries or barks excessively, goes to the bathroom in the house and/or chews things every time your family leaves the house, he may be suffering from Separation Anxiety.

Why some dogs develop separation anxiety and some don’t is not fully understood. Whatever the cause, it’s important to realize these behaviors are not malicious and that they are likely panic and/or other coping behaviors. Punishing or crating your dog will not eliminate separation anxiety. Gradually adjusting your dog to being alone is the best approach.

Preventing Separation Anxiety

It’s good for your dog or puppy to be comfortable when home alone. Your family can help him learn this by taking a little time and following these simple steps. Start as soon as your puppy comes home, if possible.

• Dogs like routine. Develop a schedule for your dog, and make sure your family sticks to it. Read Schedules for your Dog for more information.

• Get everyone in the family to take the time to give your dog plenty of mental and physical activity.
• Practice Preventative Training.

• Crate train your dog. When done properly, the use of a crate is a great way to help your dog remain calm – and out of trouble! (See Crate Training for more information.)

• Crate him for short periods while you are present. For example, when your family is watching television, put your dog in his crate and put the crate next to the sofa. Gradually increase the time crated. Reward quiet behavior with calm praise.

• Start leaving your dog or puppy alone in his crate – start with just a few minutes at a time. Gradually increase the time spent alone.

• Limit the attention he gets shortly before leaving, so it isn’t such a shock when your family does leave.

• When you let your dog out of his crate, remain calm and keep the greetings to a minimum. You don’t want to make him excited.

• Reward your dog with attention when he lies quietly away from you.

• Most dogs don’t need to be crated throughout their lives, but don't rush freedom. Typically, dogs aren’t ready to be given unsupervised freedom in your home until they are approximately a year-and-a-half or older.

• Try to make sure someone in your family is home as much as possible. Consider hiring a dog-walker or neighbor to give your dog a midday break while everyone is in work or school. Keeping your schedule similar on weekends can help make things easier for your dog.

Do’s and Don’ts

DO make leaving and arriving uneventful. By making leaving a big production – lots of hugs and goodbyes or asking if he’ll miss you – you may increase your dog’s anxiety level. You may want to consider giving him a treat or an appropriate toy so that he associates the crate with something positive.

DON’T get overly excited when you return. Just let your dog out of his crate promptly and take him outside as he may need to relieve himself. As he gets older and has better control of his bladder, wait until your dog is calm and quiet, then casually go greet him and praise him for being calm and quiet. Always give your dog or puppy an opportunity to eliminate prior to crating him.

Signs of Serious Separation Anxiety

Most dogs, especially puppies, may whine or cry a little when left alone. True separation anxiety is defined as destructive or disruptive behavior by a dog, including tearing up the room, constant barking and whining, or inappropriate elimination when he is left by himself. Consult your veterinarian or a qualified dog trainer or behavior professional if you are unable to resolve these issues on your own.