Separation anxiety can be a problem amongst adopted shelter dogs. It stems from being pushed from several different locations, possibly being abandoned or caught in correction cycles with their former owners. It is very similar to panic attacks suffered by humans. The dog becomes very anxious when his owner leaves home even if just for a few minutes. These behaviors are not done out of spite. Dogs don’t think that way. It is a reaction strictly to the anxiety he is feeling. He CANNOT control it.

Separation anxiety can be exhibited in many different forms:

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  • Some dogs chew whatever they can.
  • Some dogs bark excessively.
  • Some may urinate or defecate or both. 
  • Some salivate and become overly active.
  • Some may even do a combination of some or all of the above listed behaviors.

All dogs exhibit separation anxiety in different degrees and lengths or time.

Because dogs are such social creatures they don’t like to be left alone. They become upset by our comings and goings. They don’t know when you will be back or even if you will come back. All they realize is one minute their master is there and the next minute he’s gone. It can be very terrifying to a dog, especially one recently placed in a home.

Separation anxiety can easily be controlled. The following are things you can do to control and eventually resolve the problem:

  • Your comings and goings are an everyday occurrence.In other words, don’t lavish your dog with attention when you come and go. It makes your absence that much more profound
  • Ignore the dog 10 minutes prior to your leaving and another 10 minutes after you come back home again. You must do this no matter how long you’ve been gone or how often you come and go throughout the day.
  • Don’t pet him, don’t look at him and don’t even talk to him.
  • After the 10 minutes and after he has calmed down, you can softly and calmly talk to him but don’t lavish him with lot’s of attention. Even if he’s jumping all over you, just walk away and go about your business.

The above steps are not mean. Your dog won’t love you any less. Dogs don’t think that way, only humans do. By taking these steps you are helping your dog achieve a happy, healthy and anxiety free life. He will actually respect you more for your guidance.

2. Give him direction and leadership to follow. If you remain calm, he will follow your lead. When giving him attention after the 10 minutes have him “SIT”. Don’t baby him.

3. If he is the type of dog that won’t leave your side when you are home with him:

  • Take time out of every single day to be away from him. Give him a treat, go into the bedroom and leave him in the living room, closing the door if needed.
  • Praise him softly for his quiet behavior.
  • Consistency is key. You must take the same steps each and every day. Weekends too. Don’t try to make up for it by never leaving his side on weekends. He will feel much more anxious when Monday comes and everyone goes back to work or school. You don’t want your dog to be anxious. It’s not healthy for him or you.

4. Never correct him after the fact. 

  • If you come home and he has chewed the carpet or had an accident, DON’T YELL AT HIM. He will not make the connection between the punishment and the behavior he did just minutes or hours before. Just clean up the mess and go about your day. If you yell at him, he will just fear your coming home which in turn will make him more anxious the next time you leave.

5. If your dog is used to a crate and you’re not gone for excessive hours during the day, the best thing you can do is crate the dog. It will teach him to be calm and not destructive while you’re gone. Crates are actually very relaxing to dogs once they get used to them.

If your dog is not used to the crate, it is VERY important that you first accustom him to the crate prior to being therapeutic for separation anxiety. 

6. If you are gone for more than six hours, try to have someone come over in the middle of the day to take him out for about half an hour. It will break up the day for him as well as get out some of the pent up energy he may have. Make sure the person who comes over also ignores him for 10 minutes. Again, it’s all about CONSISTENCY.

7. Give him a special bone or chew toy. 

  • A hollow marrow bone packed with cheese is a good distraction for a chewer. Another good one is a Kong type toy filled with peanut butter. Also, 
  • Right before you leave give him a treat. This gives him a positive reinforcement that he will associate with you walking out the door.

8. Give him an old towel or sweater that has your scent on it. 

  • Enabling him to smell your scent will make him feel more relaxed.

9. Exercise him thoroughly before leaving. Even if you have to get up 15 minutes earlier to take him out back and play for awhile. It doesn’t mean that you’ll have to play with him before work forever. 

  • Include some obedience work in the exercise. Mental stimulation is just as tiring to a dog as physical stimulation. 
  • Be sure to use a lot of praise and positive reinforcement.

10. MOST IMPORTANT: practice coming and going for short periods of time.  Most damage occurs within the first 15-30 minutes of your leaving. 

When practicing out of the crate:

  1. Ignore him for 10 minutes, 
  2. Give him his bone
  3. Put your coat on
  4. Give him his special treat, 
  5. Walk out the door
  6. Immediately come back in. Again, ignoring him for 10 minutes. Do this several times; slowly increasing the time you stay outside by 1-2 minutes at a time. 
  7. Always try to enter the house before the anxiety starts. Once you get him past being able to be left out of the crate for 30 minutes, you have probably won the battle.

The dog you have adopted has mostly likely been pushed around from place to place and it will take some time for him to adjust. Once he realizes that you will be coming back, his anxiety will decrease and eventually subside. 

Remember, this is stemming from his attachment and bond with you. It’s not out of spite or punishment for leaving him. It’s out of love for you.

Separation Anxiety is a totally workable problem that can be solved with some patience and understanding.