Separation Anxiety in Dogs
by Jean Guarr
Does your normally well-behaved dog go crazy when you're out?
Do neighbors complain that he barks constantly when you're gone,
even though you never hear him bark much when you're with him?
Do you return to find a scene of destruction, or perhaps you return
to a dog who's trembling and hiding or who runs to you and sticks
like glue for 10 minutes or more? Do you have to race or outwit
your dog in order to go to the bathroom by yourself?
You probably have a separation anxiety problem. It can be a
major problem: a couple who'd had a baby and hadn't been out of
the house together for over 6 months went out to a movie and dinner,
then came back to find that their sofa had been totally demolished
by their dog. It can be minor: your dog doesn't want to leave
your side, for 10 minutes or more, right after you get home from
are two ways to fix it: the easy and the more difficult. For the
easy way, put your dog in his kennel - gently, with plenty of
water, a couple of toys, and an old towel or sweatshirt with your
scent on it (rub it over your body before you shower). Do this
10 minutes or so before you leave, and be sure to take him out
to urinate and defecate first. Leave quietly; don't go over to
the kennel and say bye-bye or slam the door. Turn off the overhead
light. He may bark for a few minutes, but pretty soon he'll stop
and probably nap until you get home. Dogs are den animals: they
feel more comforted in a small, quiet, dimly-lit space. If your
dog doesn't have a kennel, go to WalMart or somewhere and buy
one. Those Pet Taxi things work fine; just get one big enough
for him to lie comfortably or stand up and turn around, but not
much bigger. When you get back home, let your dog out and immediately
take him outside to urinate and defecate. Don't make a big deal
out of being home: speak to him quietly and pet him gently if
at all until he's been outside.
Why doesn't everyone use the easy way? Because if you're going
to be gone long enough that your dog will need to urinate or defecate
before you get back, it's abusive to make him do it in his kennel.
Instead, put him in a room with an easily cleaned floor and remove
any valuables that might get damaged.
A normally healthy adult dog can hold his urine and feces for
about 8 hours. Young dogs can hold them one hour for every month
old they are, from 2 hours at 2 months to 8 hours at 8 months.
Dogs younger than 2 months may not be able to hold them for even
an hour, and older or sick dogs may need more frequent potty breaks
also. No dog should ever be expected to hold urine or feces for
longer than 8 hours. Some dogs can, but don't expect it. Sometimes
a dog will be so anxious that kenneling will cause diarrhea or
vomiting; if that happens with your dog you can't use the easy
Now, the more difficult method: you have to try to take the
drama out of leaving and coming home. You're not using the kennel,
but you will be using some of the same tricks. You won't be saying
goodbye or giving a lot of petting right before leaving, nor will
you be doing a lot of petting and excited talking when you return.
Create a 10 - 15 minute window of calm and quiet before leaving
and after returning, during which you'll avoid looking directly
at your dog, touching him, or talking to him. Do all that before
or after the calm period.
Some dogs are comforted by having a radio or TV left on with
the volume turned to a quiet level. Others might be helped by
a recording of your voice. There are dog toys with recordable
sound chips: you can record a short message which your dog can
replay by chewing on the toy. Chewing itself is calming to most
dogs, so be sure to leave out a couple of toys that your dog likes.
You can make the toys more interesting by pretending to play with
them yourself for a few minutes now and then.
Some dogs will be fine with a really interesting toy. There
are treat-dispensing toys which will dribble out bits of tiny
treat or dry dog food as a dog rolls them around the floor. Go
if you can't get to a good pet store. There are hard rubber Kong
toys which you can coat with a thin layer of peanut butter or
baby food from a Gerber's Number 2 jar only (the one without onion
powder), then freeze. A dog will chew the Kong to get the good
taste, and since it's frozen it'll take long enough for the dog
to calm down and possibly get sleepy. These frozen Kong treats
will be messy, so the dog should have them only in a room with
an easily cleaned floor.
Some dogs will be bothered by a ringing phone. Unplug it before
you leave, or turn the ringer off. Remember to turn it back on
or to plug in when you return.
Too much light can be a problem. The house shouldn't be dark,
but dim light is more restful. If you don't have dimmer switches,
leave on a few small lamps rather than the ceiling lights.
For persistent cases, there are drug and herbal remedies you
can try. Bach flower remedies - www.preciouspets.org/newsletters/articles/bach.htm
- are drug-free, have no side effects, and are remarkably helpful
in many cases. The best-known herbal tablet is Calms, and most
pet stores stock it; or your dog's veterinarian can recommend
a tranquilizer if you prefer a drug treatment.
If you need additional information or help, please contact me
at 870 633 1190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.