Does my dog have separation anxiety?

You know that when you’re not home, your dog misses you. He always greets you when you’re back and he can sometimes be found expressing his frustration about not being around you by tearing things up around the home, digging, chewing or using the restroom in inappropriate places. These events can mean a variety of things, but in your dog’s case do they mean that they have separation anxiety or are they just bored and misbehaving?

Separation anxiety is a severe and serious condition your dog could be suffering from. Separation anxiety causes major distress for your dog when he is away from you and can result in him trying to cope with his stress by destroying the home when you leave. Because of the symptoms of separation anxiety, a merely ill-behaved dog can often be confused with an animal that has separation anxiety, though there are many differences between generally poor behavior and separation anxiety.

Does your animal follow you closely around the home when you are present? When your dog does chew, does he focus on items that smell like you such as discarded clothing, underwear or socks, blankets? Does he chew these things only when you are gone or when you are home too? Does your dog only exhibit these poor behaviors only some of the times when you leave or does he do it every time you’re gone? Does the dog destroy things very soon after your leave, or does he wait a while? Does your animal do this every time you leave or only some of the time?

The difference between regular destruction from lack of training or boredom and separation anxiety is that the loss of you in the immediate sense is what has caused your animal to engage in these destructive behaviors. He is dependent on your presence for him to be calm and when your presence is lacking, he is desperate and frantic and misbehaves because he is so upset.

Has your dog had any recent cause to be worried when he is not around you? Have you recently started a new job and had a major change in your schedule where you can not be around him as much, where you used to spend a significant amount of time around him? Has there been any recent event in your life that your dog may find traumatizing, such as moving, a child leaving the home? Has your animal recently been kenneled or boarded?

If you are answering “yes” to a lot of these questions, then your dog may indeed be suffering from separation anxiety. If this is indeed the case, there are a few techniques that may help your dog’s anxiety.

When you leave your home, give your animal something that smells like you. An old t-shirt, a pillowcase or a towel you’ve used will all work.

Be sure not to make a big deal out of departures and arrivals from the home. Ignore your dog for the first few minutes when you get home and the last few minutes before you leave, even if it is difficult.

Practice “Sit/Stay” and “Down/Stay” as frequently as possible, thereby teaching your dog that you can be in different places and be happy and calm.

Unfortunately, for severe cases of separation anxiety that don’t seem to be helped, you will need to contact a canine behaviorist to help in the training of your animal, but remember that whatever the case, the situation is not hopeless.

Mark Mansfield

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