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Is It Separation Anxiety or Something Else?

If your neighbors are complaining that your dog howls all day, or you come home and find your dog has urinated in the house, chewed up her bed, or scratched up the rug, you may wonder if she needs better house training or if she has separation anxiety. Look carefully at the negative behaviors, when they occur, and how she behaves when you’re home to determine what the problem is and how to correct it. 

Behaviors that may point to separation anxiety include:

  • Urinating and defecating when you’re not home
  • Howling and barking persistently without an obvious stimulant (noise, storm, etc.)
  • Chewing, digging, destroying things
  • Pacing, walking in circles, trying to escape 

What’s causing this behavior?

First, think about her behavior when she’s not alone in the house. Does she engage in these behaviors when someone is home – urinating, chewing, barking, pacing, etc.? If so, you may need to give her more training, more exercise, or more time outside. 

If your dog is relieving herself inside, make sure you’re giving her an opportunity to do her business outside before you go. This may solve several issues; she won’t have to go inside, she will be a little tired, and she may be calmer. 

Next, see if health problems could be causing any undesirable behavior. Visit your vet to make sure she is not sick or experiencing pain, which might explain howling or destructiveness. Your vet can also rule out a problem that prevents her from holding her bladder or bowel. 

Consider that your dog may just be bored. Make sure you give her plenty of exercise while you’re home and some fun toys to play with, whether you are home or away. Dog toys or puzzles in which you hide food will challenge the dog’s mind, keep her busy for a while, and provide her with a reward of her favorite food. 

Keep her favorite toys and her favorite treats for when you are going out, so she actually has something to look forward to while you’re gone. You can use our Saint Rocco’s Sprinkles or cut up her favorite dog treat bar for a food puzzle. If she loves sweets, try a Helts Honey Treat or Chicken and Sweets. If she’s a meat lover (all dogs are!) try Meat Lover or Carnivores Choice. You could also give her one of our Bully Sticks to work on when you’re not home.

What are signs of anxiety?

These strategies can help many dogs behave better when left alone, but they don’t always solve the problem; so look for several other behaviors while you’re home. For instance, does your dog follow you from room to room? Does she demand attention? Does she start to drool, whine, or shake at the time when you usually leave the house or when you grab your keys or coat? These are strong signs of anxiety. 

Helping a dog overcome anxiety takes time and patience. Review our article, Separation Anxiety in Your Dog, for some tips to get you started. If your dog has a very serious anxiety problem, you may need to turn to a professional trainer. 

Dogs that have been rescued or have come from shelters, those with a history of trauma, and those who have recently lost a beloved human are likely to exhibit pretty strong anxiety. Treat your dog with the same compassion you would treat your friend or family member who is going through a trying time because in a very real sense, she’s a member of your family. Take the time to help her feel safe, secure, and loved.

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