Separation Anxiety In Your Pet Dog: What You Need To Know

If your dog becomes stressed when you leave the house or leave the room, you might be worried that he is suffering from separation anxiety. This condition can lead to health and behavior problems, and so it is important to make sure it is properly addressed. Here is what you need to know about recognizing and helping your dog overcome separation anxiety.

True Or False

While separation anxiety is a real condition that many dogs actually do suffer with, not all poor behavior or depression while you are away are indicative of true separation anxiety. Sometimes, behaviors that appear to be separation anxiety are actually borne out of poor training or weak leadership from the pack leader -- you. Fortunately, improving training and establishing a firm, masterful relationship with your pet can help make these issues go away on their own. 

An example of false anxiety is if your dog barks incessantly when you leave the room or if he is always crying when you leave him in the yard while you are in the house. If the barking stops when you reward him with attention or food, this is not true anxiety, but a learned behavior that the dog exhibits to get the attention or treat he wants. You can help to correct these simple anxious behaviors by making sure that your dog gets plenty of attention from you when you are together, by getting him used to spending time alone in his crate, and by utilizing obedience commands that help to establish your role as alpha. 

True Separation Anxiety

True separation anxiety means that your dog becomes markedly depressed, stressed, destructive, or aggressive when you are gone. Jumping fences, digging holes, defecating in the house, or scratching at doors and windows for extended periods of time are all signs of separation anxiety. It's important to take corrective steps as soon as your notice these troubling signs, because destructive behaviors can lead to real health problems like dehydration or poor dental and digestive hygiene from chewing/eating things that should not be eaten. You can try:

  • remaining calm and focused when you are going to be leaving the house. Crying over your dog, making a fuss about leaving, or getting stressed before you go can confuse your dog. They pick up on the stress and begin to understand that being apart is a bad thing, instead of something that is a normal part of life. 
  • introducing changes methodically and calmly. Moving to a new home, the addition of a new pet or child, or change of ownership can disorient a dog, making them eager to re-establish pack order. You need to introduce the dog to new surroundings and people and continue to reinforce your relationship to help your dog with the stress of change.
  • talking to your vet. Some dogs may have trouble holding their bladders, so this is a condition that should be ruled out. Some dogs may need veterinary behavior reconditioning, and your vet will be able to refer you to training programs or at-home exercises you can try.