What is dog separation anxiety?
Your dog becomes so stressed in your absence (sometimes even if you simply go into the next room where he can’t see you) that he can’t cope with being alone and tries to do whatever methods *he* thinks will get you to come back and/or to work through his stress — barking, destruction by digging and/or chewing, peeing and pooping, or a combination of some or even all of these. He is having a panic attack.
It’s a common problem with adopted dogs, retrievers, and small dogs, but other dogs can suffer — and they *do* suffer — from separation anxiety, too.
Separation Anxiety Symptoms
These are the symptoms of dog separation anxiety that your dog displays when you are about to leave. You likely will not see all of them with your dog.
- Anxiety increases the closer you are to leaving
- Barking at you
- Chewing a paw
- Chewing his flank
- Ears back
- Excessive grooming especially on the paws, flank, or genitals
- Excessive thirst
- Following you from room to room
- Freezing in place
- Furrows in the skin under the eyes and on the forehead
- Increased barking as you get closer to leaving
- Lack of focus or attention
- Moving very slowly
- Overly reactive
- Pacing frantically
- Quick licking of the lips
- Rapid shallow or deep forceful panting
- Refuses to enter crate
- Shaking as if he just came out of the water
- Sniffing at the ground
- Stiffness in his walk and tail movement
- Sweaty paws (You can see footprints)
- Tail biting
- Tail chasing
- Tips pulled back in a wide grin
- Tongue cupped at the tip
- Tries to prevent you from leaving
- Turning away from you
- Urination and defecation
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Separation Anxiety Treatments
Please realize that he is *not* doing this in retaliation for your leaving. TREATING A SYMPTOM (barking, destruction, house soiling) DOESN’T WORK because it doesn’t get to the cause of the problem — it’s comparable to putting a bandage on a broken leg because that will stop the bleeding, but it sure doesn’t mend the broken leg! PUNISHING HIM DOESN’T WORK because he literally can’t help himself — it’s as if he were gasping for air and he’s trying to do everything he can to get more oxygen.
You may have read or tried several “solutions” to alleviate separation anxiety or even worked with other trainers, yet your dog still is suffering. Cookie cutter approaches and quick fixes do not work! Human equivalent — you need to lose weight; the doctor gives you a program to follow; you slowly lose weight. As much as you would like to, you’re not going to get to your goal weight in a week.
The first thing we need to do is to see whether it truly IS separation anxiety — there could be other reasons for your dog’s behavior.
Here’s some things to think about:
There is a difference between SEPARATION anxiety – “I’m so stressed when you’re not here that I’m panicking” – and SEPARATING anxiety – “I’m in control here. You can’t leave because then I won’t have anyone to boss around.”
There’s also a difference in degree – mild, moderate, or severe.
Or your dog could simply be bored – “No one’s here and there’s nothing to do, so I’ll just tear up the place because it’s fun.”
Or he could be calling you home – “I’m just going to bark and bark because I don’t want you to forget where you live, and you’ve always come back when I’ve barked before.” Alternatively – “I’ll just pee and poop because then you can follow your nose home cuz you know what I smell like.”
Maybe he’s sick and you haven’t noticed – “I really don’t feel good and I need someone to comfort me.”
Possibly he’s uncomfortable – “I’m freezing. Help!” Maybe it’s an intact male and there’s a bitch in heat – “Get me out of here so I can mate.”
Or he’s afraid of something – “That garbage truck makes a lot of noise and scares me.”
There may be other creatures outside – “Don’t you dare come into MY territory.”
Those are a few of the scenarios, and each case is unique and involves a specific program tailored to each dog. It involves substituting new wanted behaviors for old unwanted ones by working on your dog’s senses – sight, smell, sound, touch, and even taste. It involves behavior modification on his part — and yours!
You may have used some dog calming products. You may have even asked your veterinarian to help with medication — but medication alone will not solve your dog’s separation anxiety. Medication may help because it changes your dog’s brain chemistry so learning can take place easier. Your dog needs help with behavior modification and training so his behavior will change.
Separation anxiety is the most difficult behavior issue to work with because you are trying to control a behavior when you are not present. It’s a complex issue and can be difficult but is usually not impossible to overcome. It takes time and understanding, and most of all, patience on your part. You may become frustrated during the program because we’re working with a new normal, both for you and your dog. Expect the frustration, and work through it.
You are your dog’s best hope. If it is separation anxiety, he cannot overcome this by himself and he will not get better over time. He does not have control over his fear – it really is bigger than he is. Please work with a behavior consultant who is experienced in treating separation anxiety and other fears.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational only.
It does not replace a consultation with a dog
behavior consultant or veterinarian and may not be
used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.
I’d love to hear what your comments are. How have you help your dog overcome separation anxiety? Please share your experiences or ask a question so we can all help each other.