HealthWatch: Leaving Your Dog's Separation Anxiety Behind

Does your dog get crazy when he sees you gathering your keys, getting ready to walk out the door? Does your dog react like you've just returned from a month-long vacation after you come home from running a 30-minute errand? Sounds like separation anxiety is getting the best of him. But don't give up – there is hope for you – and your dog.

It's hard to say goodbye

It's only natural for your dog to be a little sad when you leave. After all, dogs are pack animals, and they view you as their pack leader, if not their best friend. But if you have a dog that suffers from severe separation anxiety, you know how difficult it can be to leave your dog home alone. Barking, whining, crying and destructive behavior are signs of separation anxiety. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make saying goodbye a little less sorrowful.

Play it cool

If your dog is crying and whining when you get ready to leave, looking at you with those sad puppy dog eyes, you probably feel bad about walking out the door. Who'd blame you for showering him with love and affection before you leave? However, for an angst-filled pooch, all you're doing is reinforcing his sad, misplaced feelings. The next time you leave the house, give your dog a simple "see you later boy" and walk out. No big production, no big deal.

And the same goes for your return home. Again, it's natural for your dog to be excited when you walk in the door, but offering praise while he's out of control by petting and hugging him is only reinforcing the separation anxiety you want him to get over. Instead, don't even acknowledge your dog until he has calmed down into a relaxed state. Then praise him – perhaps even offer a treat. Doing these things will begin to help him learn that you're ok with leaving and returning, and so should he. Plus, he'll learn the sooner he calms down, the quicker he'll get the attention he's looking for.

A place of refuge

While it may seem the opposite, another way to help ease separation anxiety is to crate-train your dog. Teaching your dog to love his crate and view it as his den will also help him feel like he's in a safe, secure place while you're away. If your dog isn't crate-trained, it's well worth the time investment to begin working on it immediately. Make sure your dog's crate is roomy enough for him to stand up in and turn around, but not too big. And don't worry: As long as you're not leaving him for too long, he should stay accident-free – it's a natural instinct for dogs to not soil their den.

Also, on a day when you don't have much planned, practice coming and going for short periods throughout the day. It will further reinforce the lessons that can be difficult to get across if a dog is being left for long periods, such as when you are at work.

Patience is a virtue

Getting over the separation anxiety hurdle can be tough. But patience and understanding from you will put your pooch on the path to self-confidence and less anxiety every time you walk out the door. Remember, in the mind of a dog with separation anxiety, he truly believes that you are leaving forever. This is something you can most certainly help him overcome.

And if you've tried these suggestions with no results, be sure to talk to your vet. In the most severe cases, your vet may recommend medication to help the cause. There's no reason your dog has to feel stress every time you walk out the door. After all, absence should make the heart grow fonder, not stressed.