Separation Anxiety

A focus on building your dogs confidence while you’re away

Separation Anxiety Overview

From the mildest case to the most severe, separation anxiety has one underlying commonality: panic. Your dog isn’t “acting out” from spite and he isn’t trying to punish you for going shopping without him. Rather, he is in survival mode.  Panic is a sudden overwhelming fear that produces hysterical or irrational behavior. When a dog experiences separation anxiety, he is literally afraid for his life – a situation that overrides ALL rational thought.

Why all of the Destruction?

Like us, dogs form strong social bonds, which is why the typical symptoms displayed with separation anxiety are those a dog would use to avoid being separated from his family: vocalizing, pacing, scratching and Houdini-type escape attempts. As you are probably acutely aware, these symptoms can bring about numerous problems, like complaints from neighbors, costly bills for destroyed property and frightening phone calls about your dog being lose in the neighborhood.

Remote & In Person Lessons

Separation Anxiety is a panic disorder – dogs with SA literally are afraid for their life when separated from you. It can be resolved or improved thru a process of desensitization. Sometimes, combined with pharmaceutical support. I will coach you and your dog through the process, using technology such as a nanny camera, which will enable me to provide direction, without tipping off the dog that a human is present. So, I can provide this service long distance, as well as locally.

Some Classic Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

The best way to know for sure what your dog is experiencing in your absence is to set up a video camera to capture their behavior when you are gone. Sometimes, dogs do not do any property destruction, but spend the entire time you are gone, pacing, panting, vocalizing and panicking….

If your dog displays some or all of the following behaviors when you are not at home and the dog is alone, it is likely your dog has Separation Anxiety. If these behavior ALSO occur when family members are with the dog, causes other than Separation Anxiety should be investigated:

  • Vocalization can begin before you leave, while you are leaving or after you’ve been gone for awhile
  • It can be chronic and non-stop or occur in a cyclic pattern. For example, howling – bark-howl-whine for twenty minutes, then silence for a spell and then repeat the pattern
  • House soiling in dogs that are normally house trained
  • Chewing or pawing with destruction
  • Self-mutilation
  • Escapism (signs of destruction at doorways and windows, breaking out of crates, scaling fences)
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Sweaty paws
  • Pacing
  • Excessive water consumption (upon return home)
  • Trembling prior to departure
  • Excessive greeting behavior (upon return home)
  • Anorexia
  • Aggression (upon leaving and/or returning home)
  • Depression
  • Excessive shedding

My dog has many symptoms of Separation Anxiety, now what?

The best course of action depends on the severity of your dog’s condition. Determining the severity of your dog’s separation anxiety and the best course of action, usually requires the help of a professional, ideally one experienced in treating anxiety disorders. Your dog can be helped by going through a planned departure desensitization program, which will teach your dog to remain calm with increasing amounts of alone time, starting with a few minutes and building up to hours. Such a program will give your dog the tools he needs to remain calm when alone. That process might be helped along by the use of anti-anxiety medication prescribed by your veterinarian.

Remember, we cannot just tell the dog to “get a grip.” Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are panicked, fearful and traumatized when left alone. Your dog cannot control his fear, but he can get better. And you can regain a sense of being able to live peacefully with your dog while you come and go.

Not sure if your dog is really anxious, or mildly distressed?

Again, your veterinarian and/or a professional experienced in treating separation anxiety can help you answer this question. Dogs that experience true panic when alone will require a focused and personalized approach to behavior modification. But, if you suspect your dog’s distress might be less severe than a full blown panic attack, there are a variety of tools you can try:

  • DAP® (Adaptil®) stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone
  • A ThunderShirt
  • Playing music created specifically to help dogs relax
  • Aerobic exercise for the dog before you leave
  • Leaving the dog with a supply of interactive food toys, such as stuffed and frozen Kongs and interactive food puzzle toys
  • Remaining calm and nonchalant during your comings and goings, so as not to add to your dog’s dramatic greeting behaviors when you get home
  • Building the dog’s confidence through basic training of exercises that help the dog learn impulse control, such as exercises that require your dog to stay and wait and relax.
  • Hiring a dog walker to break up your dog’s day while you are away
  • Experimenting with different “confinement” routines. For example, free behind a baby-gated area in the house or in a crate – some dogs panic in small confined areas such as crates, while others panic if they are in a space that is too large. And for many dogs, being outside all day long in a big yard with nobody there tio give them direction or back them up, creates anxiety and stress. For these dogs, simply creating a smaller confinement area with a space to nestle in and sleep quietly and peacefully can be an effective solution.