With the majority of Americans working outside the home, it’s not surprising that separation anxiety in dogs is a common concern for pet owners. Each dog is different in how they deal with the stress of being left alone, but destruction is common. Understanding the cause of your dog’s anxiety is key to finding solutions that will help them relax when you’re away.  

What is separation anxiety?   
Separation anxiety occurs in dogs that are extremely attached to their owner or family members. There is no evidence as to why this happens in certain dogs. However, shelter dogs are more likely to display these behaviors. When dogs with anxiety are left alone, especially for extended periods of time, they become upset and destructive, often from the time you leave until the time you return. Dogs may urinate, defecate, chew, howl, bark, pace, dig, or try to escape. Coping mechanisms and escape attempts cause damage to your home and can result in injury to your dog.  

Does your dog have anxiety or just bad manners? 
It is important to distinguish between a dog with anxiety and a dog with bad manners. A dog who is suffering and a dog who is just bored are two separate issues. A key indicator of separation anxiety in a dog is symptoms beginning before you leave. If your dog begins to show signs of distress as you're doing things like putting on your shoes or coat, setting things by the door, grabbing your keys, etc, there's a good chance it's anxiety. A sure way to tell between the two is to set up a camera to record your dog while you're gone. If most of the destruction occurs within the first 30 minutes to an hour after you leave, it's likely anxiety. If, after you're gone, your dog takes a nap and then wakes up and becomes destructive, that's most likely a boredom issue. 

Things that can trigger separation anxiety are:  
  • Change of handler or family
  • Change in family routine or schedule
  • Moving from a shelter to a new home
  • Death of a family member or family member moving out

What can you do to help your dog? 
  • First, you should always talk to your vet to rule out any medical problems.
  • Never punish your dog; it will only amplify the stress and make the situation worse.
  • Give your dog a treat that he or she only gets when you leave the house. Take it away when you get home. Make it a happy and positive exchange.
  • Practice low-key departures and arrivals. Don’t give your dog a lot of attention for the first few minutes of you being home.
  • Consider crate-training, which creates a safe space for your dog when used correctly.
  • Make sure your dog has plenty of daily exercise, which ensures they are relaxed and can rest when they need to.
  • Give an over-the-counter calming treat before you leave.

If the problem is more severe, you may want to consult your vet or a professional trainer to come up with a solution that works best for your dog and family.  

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