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Separation Anxiety

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is the physiological and behavioral response a dog experiences when separated from his guardian, resulting in panic and destructive behavior. While many dogs exhibit some form of anxiety, true separation anxiety is fairly rare.

What does separation anxiety look like?

Your dog may show their anxiety when left alone by whining, barking, howling, or destructive behavior such as chewing or digging. They may also take extreme measures to try and escape their environment, soil the house, pant heavily, or show signs like dilated pupils, excessive drooling, and/or sweaty paw pads.

How do I know if my dog has true separation anxiety?

If you answer “yes” to most of the following questions, your dog may be experiencing separation anxiety:

  • When your dog is left alone, does he scratch, chew, and paw at the doors and windows?
  • When you are home, does your dog follow you from room to room?
  • When you get home, is your dog frantic with excitement?
  • Does your dog become nervous or excited when you grab your shoes, coat, or keys?
  • Is there a puddle of saliva in the crate where your dog was left?
  • Does your dog try to escape from the crate?

How can I help alleviate my dog’s separation anxiety?

  • Keep your arrivals and departures as low key as possible. When you come home, make brief eye contact or give a short verbal greeting, then try to avoid anything your dog finds exciting for the next 10 minutes or so (like taking a walk, playing fetch, or excessive petting). If you get very excited about coming and going, your dog will, too.
  • 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.
  • Practice mock departures of varying duration (from 1-10 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. When you return, make brief eye contact and then ignore him for a couple minutes.
  • Vigorously exercise your dog for at least 15 minutes twice daily. The most important time to exercise is in the mornings before you leave. However, be sure you have planned at least 30 minutes from the end of the exercise session to your departure to give them adequate time to relax and return to a normal baseline. 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. The goal is to associate positive things with your departure.
  • 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.

If you would like to work with a WHS behaviorist one-on-one regarding this topic, please call 414-431-6173 or email behavior@wihumane.org to schedule a consultation.

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