Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the most common problems that dogs develop. It's an anxiety disorder, and is defined as a state of intense panic brought on by the dog's isolation/separation from her owner(s).

In other words: when you leave for work in the morning, your dog is plunged into a state of nervous anxiety which intensifies extremely quickly.

Dogs are social animals - they need plenty of company and social interaction to keep them happy and content. No dog likes to be left alone for long stretches of time, but some dogs do a lot worse than others: these are the ones most prone to separation anxiety.

There are a number of contributing causes to the condition:

The symptoms of separation anxiety are pretty distinctive: your dog will usually learn to tell when you're about to leave (she'll hear keys jingling, will see you putting on your outdoor clothes, etc) and will become anxious. She may follow you from room to room, whining, trembling, and crying. Some dogs even become aggressive, in an attempt to stop their owners from leaving.

When you've left, the anxious behavior will rapidly worsen and usually will peak within half an hour. She may bark incessantly, scratch and dig at windows and doors (an attempt to escape from confinement and reunite herself with you), chew inappropriate items, even urinate and defecate inside the house. In extreme cases, she might self-mutilate by licking or chewing her skin until it's raw, or pulling out fur; or will engage in obsessive-compulsive behaviors, like spinning and tail-chasing.

Upon your return, she'll be excessively excited, and will leap around you in a frenzy of delight for a protracted period of time (more than the 30 seconds to one minute of a happy, well-balanced dog.)

This extended greeting is a source of some misunderstanding: without realizing that such a greeting actually signifies the presence of a psychological disorder, some owners actually encourage their dog to get more and more worked up upon their return (by fuelling the dog's excitement, encouraging her to leap around, paying her protracted attention, and so on.)

If you're behaving in this way with your dog, please stop. I know it's tempting and very easy to do, and it seems harmless - after all, she's so happy to see you, what harm can it do to return her attention and affection in equal measure? - but in actuality, you're just validating her belief that your return is the high point of the day.

So she's as happy as Larry when you return - but, when it's time for you to leave again, her now-exaggerated happiness at your presence is under threat, and she gets even more unhappy when you walk out that door.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize your dog's tendency towards anxiety. Here's a short list of do's and don'ts:

Do:

Do not:

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