What causes dog seperation anxiety, and how can we deal with it?

Learn the signs fo separation anxiety in dogs, what treatments are available and how we can make it easier to deal with


Dogs are social animals and generally do not like to be left alone.

However, some dogs, when left alone, are so destructive that it leaves their owner wondering what is wrong and how to deal with it.

Separation anxiety is a common disorder in dogs. Although there is no “test” for the disorder, a dog is said to have separation anxiety when they consistently show signs of great distress when left alone. Dogs with separation anxiety have been known to destroy crates, dig out of kennels and under fences, rip through wire fences with their teeth, scratch at doors, bark, cry, whine, defecate or urinate uncontrollably, chew on anything they can lick their skin until they cause ulceration, or refuse to eat or drink when their owner is gone. Dogs with separation anxiety will exhibit self-destructive behavior and have no regard for what it is physically doing to their body. Their feet can be bleeding from scratching at a door and they will continue to scratch at the door until they are no longer alone.

Dogs can “get” separation anxiety at any age and for any reason. The most common reasons a dog will suddenly exhibit signs of the disorder are:
Being left in a thunderstorm
Being boarded
Meeting new people
Death in their family
Death of a pet
Moving to a new home
A change in routine

Veterinarians generally agree that dogs are more susceptible to getting separation anxiety if an early experience in their life causes the dog to bond unusually well to people.  It then sets in place the possibility that the dog may be separated from a person and not be able to handle it in a healthy way. You may know you have a dog like this if you describe your dog as clingy, and it follows you around twenty-four hours a day.

There are several ways to deal with a dog that has this disorder. There are many medications available to calm the dog and help them to handle your absence. Clomipramine (Clomicalm) is the only drug approved for use in dogs, but several other medications are also used. Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Amitriptyline (Elavil), Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium) and Buspirone (Buspar) have all been offered to canines to treat this disorder. Another option, homeopathic in nature, is melatonin. It can be found in the vitamin section of almost any store.

There are other behavioral treatments you can try, in conjunction with drug therapy, that may help ease the frustration of this disorder. These include:

Be away from your dog for short periods of time, and gradually lengthen the time that you are gone.
Reward your dog for being alone.
When you leave, give your dog an indestructible toy filled with peanut butter or other treats as something to distract them from your absence.
Confine your dog to a small room that cannot be destroyed.
Make your dog tired before you leave so he will sleep while you are gone.
Ignore your dog right before you leave and for ten minutes after you get home. By not making your departure or arrival an “big deal”, you may help the problem somewhat.
Don’t feed a high energy dog food. Dogs that eat high energy chow and then left alone all day are bound to cause problems, even if they aren’t suffering from anxiety disorders.

Separation anxiety is a common disorder in dogs but can be handled in several different ways. With patience and a little education, you can help to restore peace to your canine friend and once again enjoy each other’s company!