Have you ever come home from work to find that your dog has chewed a hole in the door, pooped in the house or, according to the neighbors, barked incessantly? You may have chalked it up to boredom or to spite because you felt your dog must be mad at you for being gone all day.
That’s a common belief, but it’s downright wrong. What seems to be “bad” behavior is often a dog’s response to fear. And fear, anxiety or stress are often at the root of canine separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavior issues in dogs. An estimated 15 percent of the nation’s dogs are thought to suffer from separation anxiety, according to my colleague Nicholas Dodman, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and professor emeritus in animal behavior at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts.
Dogs with separation anxiety fall apart when they’re left alone or when the person to whom they’re most attached leaves the house. They begin to get anxious when they see signs of departure such as putting on work clothes, packing a suitcase or picking up keys or a purse.
From pacing, panting or drooling, their behavior may escalate to destructive chewing, especially at doors and windows; nuisance barking; or peeing or pooping in the house. A dog who is super-attached to one specific person may turn his nose up at meals or act depressed if that person isn’t home.
Managing Separation Anxiety
Any time your dog’s behavior changes, no matter what you think the cause is, I always recommend getting a veterinary checkup to rule out any underlying health problems. You just never know what could be going on beneath the skin. Your dog could have a urinary tract infection or other illness that’s causing him to be unable to hold his bladder or bowels.
If your veterinarian gives him the all-clear, ruled out other possible behavior issues such as noise phobias, and you pinky-swear that your dog is fully housetrained and has no reason to be bored, it’s time to practice some behavior modification techniques to help a fearful dog be able to stay home alone comfortably.