That Doggie In The Window: Understanding Separation Anxiety

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While it's normal to see your dog staring at you out the window when you leave the house, what happens afterwards might be anything but normal. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, she might resort to destructive behaviors when she's left alone, such as chewing on doors or window frames or urinating on the carpet. Understanding this behavioral issue and seeking treatment for it can make life more pleasant again for you and your dog.

What's Up With My Dog?

Why do some dogs get separation anxiety while others are perfectly fine on their own? Researchers haven't fully discovered the reason behind this, but being overly attached to owners, such as following them from room to room, was once believed to be the culprit. 

A recent analysis of this research, which was published in the Integrative Veterinary Care Journal, found that this likely isn't the case. For example, one study showed that 65 percent of dogs without separation anxiety followed their owners around the house on a regular basis. 

While the exact cause of separation anxiety isn't known, certain situations can lead to it, such as:

  • A sudden change in daily routines or a major change, such as moving to a new house or losing a family member
  • Injury or abuse that occurs while staying at a boarding kennel or in a shelter
  • The first time being left alone when used to having people around

It's Not About You

As frustrating as the destructive symptoms of separation anxiety can be for you, it's important to keep in mind that your dog isn't trying to get back at you for having the nerve to leave her alone. Whether she's barking or howling nonstop or clawing at the door when left alone, these are signs of distress or panic. 

Is It Really Separation Anxiety?

Before diving into treatment methods for separation anxiety, bring your dog to the vet. Some of the symptoms of separation anxiety could also be signs of an underlying health issue. For example, a house-trained dog having accidents in the house might actually have a bladder infection, parasites, gastrointestinal problems or another medical problem. If your vet rules out health issues, you can start working on helping your dog overcome separation anxiety.

Now What?

The type of treatment you should try depends on how severe your dog's separation anxiety is. If she's not tearing the house apart while you're gone and the neighbors aren't complaining about her barking all the time, you can try simple steps, such as:

  • Saying goodbye or greeting your dog calmly instead of showering her with affection. Your calmness can help her learn that you leaving the house isn't a big deal.
  • Leaving one of your shirts with her, so she has something with your scent on it. Just make sure it's an older shirt that you don't mind losing if she chews on it.

What if your dog's problem is more severe? In this case, consult with a veterinarian (such as one from West Lake Animal Hospital) to come up with an effective treatment plan. Your vet might prescribe anti-anxiety medication, such as fluoxetine chewable tablets, which have been shown to provide significant improvement in dogs with severe separation anxiety. Your vet can also suggest behavioral techniques to use at home, such as desensitization, which helps reduce your dog's fear of being left alone. A professional dog trainer or animal behavior specialist can also provide additional help with carrying out behavioral techniques.

Remember to be patient with your dog as you work with her on overcoming separation anxiety, and never punish her for her behavior, since this could make it worse. With hard work and a lot of compassion, you'll be able to leave her alone without having to worry about what you'll be coming home to.