Signs Your Dog Might Be Suffering in Your Absence
Do you worry that your dog misses you a little too much? Does your pup chew or destroy things in the house when you are not there? If so, your pet may have separation anxiety.
Look for the “classic” signs
- House soiling
Other behavioral and physiological signs related to separation anxiety
- Panting, pacing, or drooling
- Gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting and diarrhea
- Inappetence: Does she wait for you to get home before eating?
- Increased anxiety when owner is preparing to leave
- Excessive greetings upon your return
These signs may appear in some (but not all) dogs
● Becoming withdrawn or inactive
● Extreme levels of panic and escape behavior that results in self-trauma (common for dogs who are crated when left alone)
The only way to be sure is to collect video
Set up your phone to record video and point the camera toward where you exit your home. Leave the home as you normally would, and either walk or drive away. Stay out of the home for at least 10 minutes.
Check the recording when you get back. Evaluate what you see! Did you notice any of the following?
- Pacing or panting
- Pawing at door
- Nervous walking from the door to a window
If you notice any of these signs, talk to your veterinarian and show them the video. Some options that may be suggested include:
- Doggie daycare
- Leave the dog with a friend or relative who stays home
- Take the dog to your workplace
- Leave the dog in a different area of the home that’s not associated with increased anxiety
If none of these options are viable, pheromones, nutraceuticals, and anxiolytic medications may also be prescribed.
What not to do
Do not confine your pup in a crate—this may further her anxiety and she could hurt herself trying to escape
Remember: If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, they are suffering. Talk to your AAHA-accredited veterinary practice about ways to help.
Additional Tips for Preventing Separation Anxiety
- Owners should avoid leaving the dog suddenly for 4–8 hours, especially if the dog has not been left alone for any length of time.
- Departures should be very short at first and the behaviors of the dog should be the guide. Owners might start with a 2- to 3-minute period of leaving the dog alone. This could just mean confining the dog in the crate or closing a door between the owner and dog while the dog eats his meals.
- Length of departures should then be gradually increased a few minutes at a time. Once the dog has been shown to be calm and anxiety free for the first hour, then it is likely that it will be OK for several hours, but the next departure should be limited to 2–4 hours. These lengths of departures should be repeated a few times before going to 8-hour departures.
- If the dog is a puppy, the length of departures should be limited according to how long the pup can hold his bladder. As a general rule, most puppies can only hold it for about 1 hour per month of age. Therefore, an 8-week-old puppy can probably not go more than a couple of hours without eliminating. A 12-week-old puppy can probably only wait about 3 hours. If you leave a puppy confined for longer than he can comfortably go without eliminating, this can teach the puppy to dislike being confined.
- Every departure should be associated with some type of special treat. For very short departures, owners might consider a few small pieces of treat, but as the departures are lengthened, the treat should be something that will keep the dog busy for a longer period. Stuffed Kongs or similar food toys are ideal for this. If treats such as these are reserved for times when the dog is alone, they will eventually learn to associate these “good things” with being alone.
- Avoiding a lot of drama associated with departures and arrivals may be helpful and will certainly do no harm. This does not mean that people must ignore their pet, only that they should avoid making a big fuss. Getting the dog excited prior to departing may simply leave the dog in a high state of arousal, which is not conducive to the calm, relaxed feelings that we would like the dog to have when alone. Getting the dog very excited about arrivals can reinforce excited behaviors and only emphasizes the contrast between owner presence and owner absence,
possibly making it harder for the dog to continue to associate being alone with feeling great.
Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB, DACAW