Dog Behavior

Separation Anxiety - HSUS

From The Humane Society of the United States

Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit distress and behavior problems when they're left alone. The most common behaviors include: Digging and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to reunite with their owners
Destructive chewing
Howling,
barking, and whining
Urination and defecation (even with otherwise house trained dogs)

Is it separation anxiety?If most, or all, of the following statements are true about your dog, he may have a separation anxiety problem:
The behavior occurs primarily when he's left alone and typically begins soon after you leave.
He follows you from room to room whenever you're home.
He displays effusive, frantic greeting behaviors.
The behavior occurs whether he's left alone for short or long periods.
He reacts with excitement, depression, or anxiety to your preparations to leave the house.


What causes separation anxiety
It's not fully understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and others don't. But it's important to realize that the destruction and house soiling that often occur with separation anxiety are part of a panic response. Your dog isn't trying to punish you for leaving him alone.
Following are some common scenarios that can trigger separation anxiety:
A dog accustomed to constant human companionship is left alone for the first time.
A dog suffers a traumatic event (from his viewpoint), such as time at a shelter or boarding kennel.
There's a change in the family's routine or structure or the loss of a family member or other pet.

How to treat minor separation anxiety Don't make a big deal out of arrivals and departures. For example, when you arrive home, ignore your dog for the first few minutes then calmly pet him.
Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like you, such as an old T-shirt that you've slept in recently.
Establish a safety cue—a word or action that you use every time you leave that tells your dog you'll be back.
Consider using an over-the-counter calming product that may reduce fearfulness in dogs.

How to handle a more severe problemUse the techniques outlined above along with desensitization training. Teach your dog the sit-stay and down-stay commands using positive reinforcement. This training will help him learn that he can remain calmly and happily in one place while you go to another room.

Create a "safe place" to limit your dog's ability to be destructive. A safe place should: Confine loosely rather than strictly (a room with a window and distractions rather than total isolation)
Contain busy toys for distraction
Have dirty laundry to lend a calming olfactory cue or other safety cues.

What to do in the meantimeIt can take time for your dog to unlearn his panic response to your departures. To help you and your dog cope in the short term, consider the following interim solutions:
Ask your veterinarian about drug therapy. A good anti-anxiety drug shouldn't sedate your dog but simply reduce his overall anxiety.
Take your dog to a doggie day care facility or kennel when you have to be away.
Leave your dog with a friend, family member, or neighbor when you're away.
Take your dog to work with you, if possible.

What won't help:
Punishment. Punishment isn't effective for treating separation anxiety and can make the situation worse. The destruction and house soiling that often occur with separation anxiety aren't your dog's revenge for being left alone: they're part of a panic response.

Another dog. Getting your dog a companion usually doesn't help an anxious dog because his anxiety is the result of his separation from you, not just the result of being alone.

Crating. Your dog will still engage in anxiety responses inside a crate, and he may urinate, defecate, howl, or even injure himself in an attempt to escape. Instead, create other kinds of "safe places" as described above.

Radio/TV noise. Leaving the radio or television on won't help (unless the radio or TV is used as a safety cue).

Obedience training. While formal training is always a good idea, separation anxiety isn't the result of disobedience or lack of training; therefore, it won't help this particular issue. Consult a professional animal behavior specialist for assistance in resolving your dog's issues.

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Don't Leave Me This Way

Resolving Separation Anxiety Problemsby Jacque Lynn Schultz, ASPCA

Supposedly, absence makes the heart grow fonder. However, the absence of an owner sends some dogs into wailing and barking, frequent house soiling, and self-destructive behaviors. These are all signs that a dog is suffering from separation anxiety.

The canines most likely to fall victim are second-hand dogs. Whether from a shelter, rescue group, or greyhound- track adoption program, dogs rehomed in adolescence or older are at greater risk of suffering separation anxiety than puppies. This is probably because it is more difficult for these dogs to accept changes in their routine and environment. They cling to their new pack leader and panic when that leader leaves home to go about his or her daily business. For similar reasons, unemployed companion animal owners or those who take lengthy at-home vacations or recuperations may find that their dog becomes disoriented when they return to work. These distressed pets need help.

Separation anxiety is often a problem of over bonding. It is not healthy for a dog to follow his caretakers' every step, to be constantly in the same room, sharing the same piece of furniture, being in close contact all the time. Promote independence by teaching the dog to down and stay on his own bed while you go out of sight. Start with a few seconds, then build up to a length of time the dog can tolerate. Put up a gate and eventually close a door between the two of you. Get family members involved in dispensing the "good stuff" to the dog. Walks, play sessions, and feedings should not be provided by only one person, for that person's absence means the end of all that is good in the world to the dog. Panic can ensue. If you live alone, perhaps a neighbor or relative will share the duties, or hire a pet-care professional to assist you.

The worst of a dog's hysteria is often during the first hour after departure. Diffuse the emotion of your leave-taking by heartily exercising the dog right after you wake up. Then, after feeding him, scale back your attention to the point of ignoring him during the last 15 minutes before you leave. Turn off the lights and turn on the television, radio, or white-noise machine—whatever you play most when you are home. And with no more than a whispered "Be good," leave the house.

Some dogs will read the signs of imminent departure and begin to work themselves into a frenzy. If putting on make-up, packing a lunch, or shuffling papers in your briefcase distresses the dog, desensitize him to these or other actions by doing them frequently and at other times (such as before mealtime) so they lose their direct connection to the dreaded departure. Presenting a toy stuffed with goodies can draw the focus of less seriously afflicted canines toward cleaning out the item and away from your leaving. Buster cubes, Kong toys, Goodie balls/ships work well as canine diversions. Unfortunately, the seriously afflicted dog will not give the toy a second look until his pack is together again.

Separation anxiety can be severe and all-consuming to some dogs. I have known dogs to jump through second story plate-glass windows, eat through sheetrock walls into neighboring apartments, and bloody their paws and noses trying to dig through wooden doors or out of crates. These individuals need professional assessment by an applied animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist, for they may need pharmacological aid while they undergo desensitization exercises. Some people choose to manage the problem by dropping off their dogs at day care or adopting a second dog so they are never truly alone. Luckily, if the earlier suggestions are followed, the majority of dogs will be howling "I will survive" in no time.