Due to the extreme social and structure pack nature of a dog, their ability to form very strong bonds with family members can sometimes lead to separation anxiety. This type of behavioural problem is seen when the dog is left alone and shows signs of distress, in the form of barking, chewing, digging or house-soiling. These dogs are commonly very attached to their owner, and will often follow them from room to room, and start showing signs of agitation when the owner prepares to leave. The actual destructive behaviour occurs within 10-15 minutes of departure. Some dogs will become quite upset about being confined and will attempt to escape when the owner leaves.
It is important to recognize this problem and start corrective treatment promptly, because separation anxiety can be very difficult to correct once it is well established. The critical message is to reduce the level of anxiety the dog feels prior to your departure. Adequate exercise is an important aspect of correcting separation anxiety, as is obedience training. It is extremely advantageous to train the dog to go to a rest area where the dog is quite comfortable, with a treat or toy, and out of visual and hearing range. Certain departure cues, including certain clothes or shoes, picking up keys, etc may indicate to the dog that that you are intending to leave. Allowing your dog the opportunity to get used to these events throughout the day while you are not leaving, so they will not be associated with leaving, is a key event. Just before leaving, fresh treats or something to occupy their time for the next 10-15 minutes once you have left is very important. Frozen treats or cookies packed tightly into a kong work well to encourage a more lengthy chew time.
Arrival back at home is just as important, and can certainly be a challenge. Ignore your pet until it is quiet and settles. A hearty homecoming will quickly undo all you have accomplished, as it reinforces the excitement.
Frequent planned departures for short periods of time should be undertaken. Working on general obedience – sit, stay, come – should also be encouraged.
If you have recognized signs of separation anxiety, please discuss the best approach with your veterinarian. Each pet is unique in their needs for correcting this common problem!