Michigan Humane Society

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Ask the Behaviorist: Is It Really Separation Anxiety?


Check out the Michigan Humane Society blog on Wednesdays to see common pet behavior questions answered by our Senior Director of Operations and pet behavior expert, CJ Bentley. If you have an immediate behavior concern with your pet, please call a qualified trainer or behaviorist! If you have a non-urgent question you would like answered on the blog, you can comment here or email us at mail(at)michiganhumane.org.

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

“What can help with separation anxiety? We have a one year old Weimaraner and we crate him when gone for a while, but when gone only an hour, we are graduating him to leaving him out of the crate. The problem is that he chews everything if left home alone, not in his crate.”

We all hope our dogs can someday “graduate” to being free in the house when we’re not home. What’s important here is to be sure we’re not misdiagnosing separation anxiety. True separation anxiety is very, very serious and should always be properly diagnosed by a qualified behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist. Some symptoms (although this is NOT a diagnosis) are animals who panic and will destroy crates, hurt themselves trying to escape, and do most of their damage to exit ways like doorways and windows. They are truly in a panic and are trying to get out. Dogs who chew (like shoes, pillows, stuff lying around, etc.) when they’re home alone do not necessarily have separation anxiety. Now, they may be a tad stressed, to be sure. But they may also have learned that when you’re home they have to be good and when you’re not home – well, “when the cat’s away the mice will play” so they say. For you, if you truly suspect separation anxiety (and I hope that’s not it) you’ll need to seek professional assistance to properly diagnose it. And if it is NOT separation anxiety you can try the following: 1) practice giving your dog some “alone time” with him in one room and you in another. Give him a sturdy Squirrel Dude type toy filled with some of his kibble and let him play with a “good” toy with you in another room. Peek in on him from time to time to ensure he’s playing with the approved toy. 2) If you think he’s a little nervous being home alone you can try a Comfort Zone type diffuser to help take the edge off a little when you’re gone, 3) leave him for SHORT periods of time when leave the house…but not the yard…give him terrific, fun, food stuffed Squirrel Dude type toys and leave him alone for 5 minutes, 10, etc. Just sneak around and peek through a window at him – to make sure he’s okay. Slowly work your way up to longer periods of time alone. If you can get up to hour…you should be okay. Especially if he’s good in his crate, you’re really not in any hurry. Some dogs stay crated during the day for a few years before they are trusted home by themselves.

“I have a chocolate lab, Cash, who’s a little over 1 yrs old. He has HUGE separation anxiety. He escapes every crate, even tightly bungeed ones. He will hurt himself if we crate him. He has had lots of training and listens pretty well. He loses it when we leave the house. Chews stuff up, my house smells like dog anxiety sweat, literally bounces off the front picture window, etc. I’m at my wits end. Yes, we’ve done meds, natural remedies… Still bad.”

It sounds like – if you’ve already tried medication – you’ve probably pretty much tried it all. Separation anxiety is very miserable for the dog and for his family. I am very sorry that you and Cash are dealing with it. His situation sounds severe. Because this can be very tricky to work through and yes – in significant cases with confirmed and properly diagnosed separation anxiety, medication is often successfully utilized – it is more than we should we deal with here. My recommendation would be contact Dr. Theresa DePorter at Oakland Veterinary Referral Specialists at http://www.ovrs.com/. She can combine both medication and training to try help you and Cash.


14 thoughts on “Ask the Behaviorist: Is It Really Separation Anxiety?

  1. Help , my beagle is on meds for anxiety , nothing is working , he hurt himself yesterday, do i get a crate or companion ? Plz help !!


  2. We don’t have any bad behavior when Hope is left alone, it’s when you return, she cries she’s so happy to see you. I’ve tried to ignore her… it gets worse.


  3. My Chihuahua cries like there’s no tomorrow every time we return, even if we’ve been outside for just a few minutes with her still being able to see us and watch what were doing. We just got her the beginning of May and she is about three years old. We know she was abused in previous homes and think that has something to do with her behavior. When I take her walking she goes off on passing dogs when on the leash. Also when walking she sometimes suddenly stops walking and flat out refuses to move so I end up carrying her home. She is very well mannered and sociable when off the leash outside. I know some of her behavior is separation issue, but the rest, I have never seen a dog do lol


  4. Our puppy is a two year old Schnoodle who is generally very, very well behaved! He even does fine being left out of his kennel for short periods of time when we are not home. However, if I am home and I leave him (ie: to take a shower, or use the restroom) and I shut him out of the room, he is destructive! He will chew on socks, shoes, get into the trash, anything to “act out”. My fiancé can leave him to do the same things, and he is just fine… He will curl up to nap, play with a toy, whatever to entertain himself. He is only like this with me. Is this a form of separation anxiety or more so a dominance issue?


  5. We found a very large German Shepherd as a stray on Sunday – we are trying to locate the owner. On Monday, my daughter and I went out to the front yard, and when we returned, “Zeus” had clawed through a screen window and bent a curtain rod. Yesterday we came home to a torn shade from the living room window. Today we tried leaving out of the door at different times and left him home with relaxation music specifically for separation anxiety. Our GSD that passed away in April was bad with this, so we are familiar with it. If we don’t find his owner, we’d like to keep him, even if we don’t, I would like to keep my house in one piece. Help!


  6. Oh – one more thing – he clawed at some tile on the landing at the side door (the door we use most), and bit a metal door knob. When we brought him to the Humane Society on Monday, we were told that he’s pretty young – about a year old. I am afraid he’s going to damage his teeth, they aren’t in all the way yet.


  7. Hi! I have an Australian Shepherd/blue heeler mix… He’s about ten months old. Since he was about four months he’s had a resource guarding issue. However, not toward his food bowl. I can feed him, touch him while he eats, and take the bowl away no problem. If he happens to get hold of other food, however, he will growl and bite to keep me from taking it. He also does this with shoes, paper, pens, and many more. And if he gets hold of food around other dogs, he will get possessive in the same way toward them. Lately he has gotten better, but he still tends to “steal” things when he can. Is there anything I can do?


  8. I have 2 cats 1 1/2 sisters they are fixed. My husband brought a male cat home maybe 2. He is very loving but my girls hiss at him all the time and they won’t play with each other anymore. I would like to keep him but I want the girls to feel happy again. He is not fixed. Is there anything I can do so they all get along.


  9. my dog Sadie is a pit bull about a year and a half old. We rescued her from the animal shelter. We got her in March of this year. She has broken 2 crates, chewed walls doors,and uses the bathroom in the house if left alone. In addition, she will chew miscellaneous things. We are unable to keep her in the crate because she hurts herself. We tie her up outside while gone and she has a dog house. I am worried she will never outgrow this. What will we do in the winter? I have spoken to our vet and a behavioral therapist and the suggestions are that it may be impossible to cure. What should we do?? I cant take it anymore!


  10. Hi, we have a 3 yr old male JRT mix, adopted him at 5 months from a good home. Like most dogs he LOVES going in the car and traveled very well until about a year ago When both my husband & I are in car and we stop for example to get gas Binky goes berserk before my husband gets out and carries on with a high pitched frantic bark for several minutes even though he can see my husband & I am still seated in car reassuring him calmly “it’s alright, it’s happens when Binky goes with just one of us. We have distracted him with treats and for the most part it works but not always do we remember to take if we are in a hurry. We have never left him car alone for long periods of time so we are miffed as to why he does this . Suggestions how to bring him back to the quiet in the car pooch ….Thanks so much!!


  11. Hi, I have a Boston Terrier who is about 6 years old. She never used to pee on the floor, but now all of a sudden she is, even if I let her out right before bed my boyfriend and I will wake up to find pee somewhere in the apartment. Can you help?


  12. Cj,
    We have a rescue cat Wiilie who was abused pretty severely in Detroit years ago. We have had him 3 yrs and he has been vocal at night but ok during the day. He now meows constantly at our doorwall ,we know there is a cat around the house sometimes at night but this is so disruptive my partner can barely work in her office. He is healthy …any ideas? He is determined to get outside and we don’t want that. …help ?


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