Theres a lot of controversy surrounding
the term separation anxiety. It is definitely
a real, diagnose-able problem, although it is over-diagnosed.
Below are lists of probable and possible symptoms to help
you determine if your dog does have separation anxiety, and
some tips to help you solve simpler problems that are sometimes
diagnosed as separation anxiety.
These behaviors would indicate that
your dog may, indeed, have separation anxiety.
Not eating food or treats that are
left out while youre away, especially if its something
they really love and they eat it right away when you get home
(so theyve clearly realized it was there but they were
too stressed to eat while you were away)
Destructive chewing, scratching, clawing at exit routes:
blinds, doorways, windowpanes (if dog is indoors) or fence,
gates, door to house (if dog is outdoors), as opposed to,
say, chewing on a chair leg or shoe. Is the destruction severe
and intense? Many animals will paw at a crate door a bit,
but will stop. If their nails, pads, teeth are worn down or
theyre panting from exhaustion, then its an indication
of real separation anxiety.
Pacing, whining, panting, drooling, dilated pupils,
following you more than usual during your departure routine
(for example, every time you get your car keys out or put
on your work shoes, putting on make-up or drying
your hair anything that serves as a cue
that youre departing).
Excessive panting, pacing, drooling, or whining while
you were gone (you might find out from neighbors, or the bedding
in a crate might be soaked through when you return, or the
stress signs will still be in evidence when you return).
The following are possible indicators
of separation anxiety, but are more likely indicators of more
simple problems. If you ONLY see the behaviors below, try
other solutions first. A good way to test is to leave an extremely
tasty treat (such as a meaty bone, fishwhatever your
dog thinks is the best thing to eat) for the dog; go through
your regular routine and leave. Drive around for five minutes.
If the treat is still there when you come home, and your dog
has any of the other indicators listed, then your dog may
have separation anxiety.
Barking and whining. Is the dog
sitting and barking at a window when people, dogs, squirrels,
cats, etc. walk by? Is the barking or whining excessive (doesnt
stop until you return or they become exhausted)? Remember
that when youre first crate training or alone training
your dog, you should expect more barking or whining initially.
Always leave a stuffed chew toy [link to how to stuff a chew
toy handout] or several stuffed chew toys when your dog is
left alone; this will help to indicate if the dog is merely
barking out of boredom or if he really has separation anxiety.
If your dog is recreationally barking, the stuffed chew toy
should eliminate the problem within a few weeks.
House soiling. House soiling alone is never separation
anxiety. You must see at least one other behavior from the
probable category to consider this a possible case of separation
anxiety. See our section on house
training to help your dog learn house manners.
Chewing. If your dog is not specifically targeting
and destructively chewing exit ways, then she is more likely
chewing for recreation. Leave some stuffed chew
toys whenever your dog is left alone. If your dog is recreationally
chewing, she should learn to chew the chew toys, rather than
other items, after a few weeks. Also see our section on house
training to learn more about chew toy training.
If you are still unsure whether or not your dog has true separation
anxiety, or if your dog does has symptoms that indicate that
he does, the good news is that it is extremely treatable if
treated appropriately by a professional. Because the treatment
is complex and very specific, you should get the help of a
professional rather than attempting to treat it by yourself.
Below is a list of reputable resources.
To find a trainer
The Association of Pet Dog Trainersto
find a suitable, dog-friendly professional trainer in your
The following books are meant to be an
additional resource, not a solution in and of themselves.
Please seek professional help to treat separation anxiety.
These books can be purchased at www.dogwise.com.
Canine Separation Anxiety Workbook, James OHare
Ill Be Home Soon, Patricia McConnell
Dogs Home Alone, Roger Abrantes
Dogs are From Neptune, Jean Donaldson
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of this article.