Separation anxiety in dogs can be a serious condition that causes a dog to have anxiety and behavior problems. Many dogs are temporarily sad when they are left alone but most of them have the coping skills necessary to soothe or entertain themselves until their owner returns. You may feel very guilty when you go to work in the morning and your dog looks at you with pitiful eyes, but chances are that your dog spends the day playing and napping. Some dogs, however, have such problems with anxiety that they don’t relax until their owner returns.


Symptoms of separation anxiety

A dog that truly has separation anxiety will display the following symptoms:


  • Barking and howling when the owner leaves – and it continues more than 15 minutes
  • Seeking contact with things that belong to the owner, such as clothing, for comfort
  • Drooling and panting
  • Soiling in the house from anxiety
  • Ignoring other people in the home when the owner is absent
  • Wanting to see and touch the owner when the owner is home
  • Ignoring toys, chews, and other things meant to comfort the dog
  • Digging in the house, chewing in the house, and destroying furniture out of anxiety


As you can see, separation anxiety can be emotionally distressing, not just for the dog, but also for the dog’s human family. It can also lead to many destructive behaviors in the home.


Although many people think their dog has separation anxiety because their dog may become “anxious” when they leave the house, remember that true separation anxiety is a serious anxiety condition. It is more than a dog that is simply sad or temporarily upset when you leave the house. Virtually all dogs display some emotion when their people leave home.


What causes separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is more common in dogs that have been taken from their mothers and littermates at an early age. It is also more common in dogs from animal shelters and other dogs that have had an unstable start in life. The more emotional security a dog has at an early age, the better. Any dog that has been through a lot of changes and upheavals can show signs of separation anxiety.


How to help your dog with separation anxiety

One way of helping your dog with separation anxiety is through desensitization. This approach is most helpful for dogs that have mild cases of separation anxiety. In essence, you can get your dog to become used to being left alone for short periods of time and gradually increase the time he spends alone until he feels all right being alone. However, it can take a long time to work up to the point where your dog feels okay being alone all day.


You can start desensitizing your dog by picking up your car keys or purse – something your dog associates with you leaving the house. Your dog probably starts becoming anxious at this point. Then put them back down. You can praise your dog when he relaxes. Keep working on this one item until your dog seems relaxed when you pick it up. Then move on to going to the door. Again, your dog will probably be anxious when he sees you going to the door. Instead of going outside, sit back down. Praise your dog when he’s relaxed again. Again, it can take some time before your dog is relaxed when he sees you going to the door. If you continue in this manner, you can gradually work up to the point of going for a short ride in your car and returning. Praise your dog when he is relaxed about you taking this short ride. You can slowly increase the length of time you are gone. When your dog can stand for you to be gone for more than 45 minutes, he should be all right with you being gone for longer periods without feeling anxious.


Desensitization works for mild cases of separation anxiety. If your dog has a more severe form of separation anxiety you will probably need to work with a canine behaviorist. You should talk to your veterinarian and see if he or she can recommend someone. Frequently a canine behaviorist will also recommend that a dog take a short course of anti-anxiety medication during training. Your vet can prescribe this medication. The medication calms your dog’s anxiety enough so that he can learn new, more productive behavior. You will not have to continue to give your dog medication after the training is complete.

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