When someone asks us about behavior issues in their dog, it often starts out with “He/she is such a wonderful and loving dog, BUT…” A common issue is separation anxiety.  What we may see during evaluation is a dog that has an unhealthy attachment to their owner and no self-confidence of their own.  The dog may follow the owner around the house from room to room, sleep in bed, and have little to no obedience training.  The owner may be someone who took time off work to bond with their new rescue dog, then went back to work, triggering the dogs anxiety.  The owner may be giving “on demand” petting, constant attention, without even realizing it.  Part of the re-training is praising your dog for working for you, not just for simply being cute and within arm’s reach.  Separation anxiety can manifest in many ways, here are a few:

WHAT?

  • Excessive barking when separated from the owner
  • Destruction when left alone
  • Panic in more extreme cases, leading to self-injury when left alone
  • Will not eat when alone, does not touch treats or bones
  • Inappropriate elimination

WHY?

  • Too early weaning
  • Separated too early from littermates and mom- such as pet store puppies
  • Neglectful upbringing
  • Genetically predisposed
  • Co-dependent owner and dog
  • Lack of confidence and independence in the dog
  • Emotionally needy owner who is inadvertently fostering this condition
  • Upsetting changes in schedules

WHAT WORKS?

This depends on the dog and situation, but here are some ideas that may work:

  • Regular Exercise
  • Obedience training
  • Clearer “pack structure” and fostering independence
  • Medication in some cases
  • Desensitizing to departure cues (keys, door opening, putting shoes on, etc.)
  • Low-key coming and going without emotional goodbyes
  • Counter-condition departures with something pleasant
  • Proper leadership
  • Periods of ignoring the dog, such as crating briefly while you are home doing other tasks
  • Confining the dog in some cases, conditioning to accept confinement for security
  • Playing a recording of the owners voice speaking and talking while the dog is alone

The anxious canine faces a lot of stress in certain situations.  Separation anxiety is a common reason for pets to be given up to shelters or rescues.  Finding a behavioral trainer who can help you work these issue out, and also working with your vet and discussing any possible medical components,  is important to keeping your dog happy.