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Separation anxiety: Does my dog have it and how can I fix it?

I hear this all the time: “My dog has separation anxiety, and I don’t know what to do.” Many times these cases are mild: The dog is new to the home, or something has changed in its world. They might not do well in a crate or with too much freedom. Also, genetics can also play a role. Every dog is different, and while this behavior can take a long time to fix, it usually has a happy ending if the owner is able to put in the work.

What is Dog Separation Anxiety?

It usually means a dog presents certain anxious behaviors when left alone. Anxious behaviors include anything from panting and drooling, to chewing baseboards and hurting themselves trying to get out of the crate. If your dog is unable to take a nap and be calm when you leave for the day, separation anxiety might be the issue.

For less severe cases, I recommend two things:

1. Change your routine when leaving the house. If you always put on your shoes and then grab your keys, try putting your shoes on last or getting ready early and sitting on the couch before you leave. Also, start giving your dog something to do while you are gone, like a peanut butter Kong. Your dog focuses on that while you're leaving and has a positive association instead of a negative one.

2. Ignore your dog when you get home. I know a lot of us have dogs because we want someone to be excited when we come home, so this doesn’t have to be a forever change. When you come in, put your bag down, take off your coat, etc. before engaging with your dog. Try not to speak or touch him for about 10 minutes. If your dog needs to go outside, try to do as little interacting as possible. What you’re doing is making the dog realize you coming home isn’t such a big deal, so being alone isn’t all bad.

For extremely severe cases, e.g., if your dog is hurting himself or destroying the house, you will need to call a veterinary behaviorist or skilled trainer for help. 

Keep in mind, this can be a pretty slow process, so be patient. Good luck!

Jaime Migdal, CPDT KA, is the founder and CEO of Fetchfind, a talent recruitment and services organization dedicated to the pet industry.

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