Many dogs exhibit
some form of anxiety. However, separation anxiety
in true form does not occur very often. It is a
condition in which the dog cannot cope with the
absence of his guardians. The dog has a physiological
and behavioral response when separated from his
guardian, resulting in panic and destructive behavior.
The dog may show their anxiety by whining, barking,
howling, destructive behavior like chewing or digging,
escaping, house soiling, dilated pupils, panting,
drooling and sweaty paw pads. Some people think
the dog is "getting even" with them for leaving
them alone, or that the dog is being disobedient,
but this is not the case; dogs are not capable of
How do you know if
your dog has separation anxiety?
There are several different behaviors that can be
associated with separation anxiety. If you answer
yes to most of the statements below, there is the
possibility that your dog may have a separation
- When your dog is
left alone with free access to a room or the entire
house, does he scratch, chew and paw at the doors
- When you are home,
does your dog follow you from room to room?
- When you arrive
home, is your dog frantic with excitement?
- As you prepare to
leave the house, does your dog becomes nervous
or excited by actions you perform like putting
your shoes on, putting your coat on, picking up
your keys, etc.?
- When you come home
from short outings, is there a puddle of saliva
in the crate where your dog was left?
- Does your dog try
to escape from the crate in?
- Keep your arrivals
and departures as low key as possible. When you
come in, ignore him for 10 minutes or so and then
calmly and quietly greet your dog. If you get
very excited about coming and going, your dog
- Interact with your
dog only when you choose, not because your dog
demands it. This is a leader of the pack program.
Spending quality time with your dog is essential.
- Work with your dog
on basic manners for 15 minutes daily to build
the dog's confidence and provide quality time.
One exercise is to practice sit-stays or down-stays.
The goal is for you to distance yourself while
your dog remains in that position and is relaxed.
After your dog is consistent with a "stay" while
you are at the opposite side of the room, begin
moving toward a door. Remain in the doorway several
times before attempting to step out of sight.
When you do step out of your dog's sight, keep
the duration very short. You want your dog to
build confidence in knowing that you will return
and there is no reason to panic. By practicing
with your dog, you are also providing some one
on one interaction with him.
- If one event seems
to trigger your dog's anxiety, begin desensitizing
him to that trigger. For example, if picking up
your keys causes your dog to become anxious, periodically
pick up your keys and move them around the house
throughout the day when you are going to be home.
You can also pick up your keys and give your dog
a yummy treat. This will signal to him that bad
things don't always come from keys clanging. Keep
track of what triggers your dog to become anxious.
Randomly desensitize your dog to each of the triggers.
- Practice mock departures
of varying duration (from one minute to 10 minutes).
Use different stimuli such as grabbing your keys
or starting your car to let him know that when
you leave, it's not forever. Also establish a
"safety" cue that will help your dog identify
that you will return. This can be turning the
radio on a soothing station right before you leave
or leaving a special toy that is safe for your
dog to play with alone. During the practice sessions,
you can turn the radio on, tell your dog "I'll
be right back," then leave. When you return, ignore
him for a couple minutes, then calmly greet him.
- Vigorously exercise
your dog for at least 15 minutes, twice daily.
The most important time to exercise is in the
mornings before you leave. Exercise alone will
not cure separation anxiety, but it can save your
house from a bored dog with lots of energy.
- Provide your dog
with a special toy when you leave, such as a Kong
stuffed with yummy treats and a bit of peanut
butter. Begin by giving your dog the toy, then
walking out of the room. Before he can get all
of the treats out, come back in and pick up the
Kong. (Do not try this if your dog has resource
guarding issues.) The goal is that you dog will
want you to leave so he gets the yummy treat back.
- Use pet sitters,
doggie day care, neighborhood friends or someone
who can be trusted to play, exercise and let the
dog out during the day. This can provide your
dog with a situation in which he is not alone.
What won't help separation anxiety?
- Punishing and/or
correcting a dog that exhibits separation anxiety
will not help the issue. When you come home and
punish your dog for something that he did earlier,
such as chewing personal items or soiling in the
house or crate, he is likely to associate the
punishment with his enthusiastic greeting. Therefore,
punishment only increases his anxiety. Just forget
it! Focus on the positive and reward your dog
using verbal praise, treats, or petting. You need
to build the confidence of your dog.
animal may not help an anxious dog. Often separation
anxiety results from being separated from the guardian.
Another animal means more work for you and there
is a chance the animals will not get along.
What about crating
Putting a dog that
has separation anxiety in a crate may have more
disadvantages than benefits. Doing so will minimize
damage to the house, but the other manifestations
of anxiety, such as vocalization and inappropriate
elimination, often occur. Many dogs destroy the
crate and injure themselves. Although behaviorists
do recommend crates for certain purposes, such as
housetraining, none suggest a crate should be used
for long term confinement. The exception is when
the dog has been taught to accept the crate as his
den and can derive a sense of security from occupying
it. A dog must be introduced to a crate gradually.
Anxiety in a crate can occur when the dog is put
into a newly purchased crate, but not acclimated
to it ahead of time.
If the dog does not show anxiety in a crate, you
can prevent problems by confining him with plenty
of water when you are not able to supervise (see
material on crate training), and by providing toys
that satisfy the chewing instinct (stuffed bones
or Kong toys are great!)
A great resource to learn more about separation
anxiety is, "I'll Be Home Soon!" by Patricia B.
McConnell, Ph.D., and can be found online
and at our Animal Antics store.
If you would
like to work with a Wisconsin Humane Society behaviorist
one-on-one regarding this behavior topic, please
call 414-431-6173 to schedule a consultation.