How to Help With Separation Distress

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Some dogs experience anxiety when left alone. When the behavior is due to an adjustment to his new home or boredom, providing mental stimulation and exercise will often resolve the issues. In the case of true separation anxiety, this is a panic disorder that will require support. 

 

If most, or all, of the following statements are true, he may have separation anxiety

  • The behavior occurs exclusively when he’s left alone.  

  • The behavior always occurs when he’s left alone, whether for a short or long period of time.  

  • He is very well behaved when you are present. 

  •  Destruction of the house is often centered around doorways and windows. 

  • He has injured himself trying to escape his crate or the house.

  • His anxious behavior begins as you get ready to leave and he tries to leave the house with you.  

  • He dislikes spending time by himself whether it’s in another room or outdoors.

*If your dog is anxious or destructive due to boredom, you may just need to provide more enrichment and exercise. Contact behavior@utahhumane.org for fun and useful enrichment ideas.

 

What To Do

  • Minimize your dog’s time home alone. Separation anxiety is a panic response and your dog can’t help her reaction. You might consider having a friend or relative watch her when you are out of the house or dropping her off at daycare

  • Talk to your vet. There are safe and effective medications that can reduce anxiety while you are working through this behavior

  • Consult with a professional. An accredited positive reinforcement trainer can create a step-by-step plan to help you reduce your dog’s anxiety. It takes time and lots of little small steps to help your dog feel comfortable alone.

 

What to Avoid  

  • Punishment is not an effective way to treat separation anxiety. Scolding, spanking, or time outs will not resolve your dog’s anxiety.  In fact, if you punish your dog after you return home it may actually increase his separation anxiety.    

  • Rely solely on crating: without an effective behavior plan this often makes the anxiety worse. Your dog may urinate, defecate, howl in the crate, or even injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate.

  • Basic training is always a good idea, but it won’t directly help an anxiety problem. Separation anxiety is not the result of disobedience or lack of training. It’s a panic response.