Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety may be the most common behavioral problem in dogs.Dogs can not ask you where you are going and when you will be home. Theycan't be comforted by leaving a phone number where you can be reached.If they are worriers, their only option is to worry. This can lead to behavioralproblems related to their stress if they exhibit it as inappropriate defecationor destruction of your home or possessions. It is a tough situation.

A dog is a social animal. It wants to be with the family and being aloneis not an entirely natural situation. Some dogs can not adjust to thissituation without help. As a puppy, a dog learns that making sounds bringsits mother to it. So barking, whining and crying are natural reactionswhen the dog wants to be reunited with its family. It may also considerdigging, scratching at the door or window and other behavior designed toallow it to escape the house and rejoin its family to be "normal". Dogsmay become so anxious that they tear up objects indiscriminately, defecateor urinate without control. If a dog is punished for these actions, theresulting increase in anxiety can make the whole situation worse. It isbest just to ignore the destruction if at all possible. In order to treatthe disorder, it is necessary to set aside some time to figure out exactlywhat is happening and to help your dog adjust to separation.

1) The first thing you need to do is spy on your dog to figureout how long he or she waits before tearing up stuff in your absence. Somedogs literally start in one minute or less. Others wait a half hour oran hour or whatever. Once you have an idea of this you can work on theproblem. It is also necessary to teach your dog at least to "sit" and hopefullyto "stay" prior to working on the actual behavioral problem.

2) A dog that is so nervous that it must be in the same roomwith you all the time requires working with sit and stay until it can tolerateyou being out of the room -- then start to work on leaving the house. Itcan help a great deal with steps 2 and 3 in this process to use an antianxiety medication, such as amitriptylline (Elavil Rx) or buspirone (BusparRx). Talk to your vet about this. It is also very helpful to consider askingabout referral to a certified veterinary or animal behaviorist for assistance.

3) Leave for short periods and come right back -- sometimes allyou can do is stand outside the door for a few seconds. Don't stay awaylong enough for your dog to get upset. The idea is to lengthen the timegradually. It may help to vary the time some so your dog can't keep trackof a "routine". Keep this up until your dog is comfortable with you gonefor a reasonable length of time. Don't make a big deal over coming backin -- it is best to greet the dog quietly or ignore it.

4) Once your dog can tolerate you being gone for an hour or two,it will probably be possible to make the jump to longer durations withoutmuch problem. Usually, about the time your dog is very comfortable withbeing left alone, it is best to begin a slow taper off of any behavioralmedications used to help in the treatment of the separation anxiety. Abruptlystopping the medications can lead to a relapse, so take a little time towean your dog off according to your veterinarian's directions.