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Separation Anxiety


There is no doubt the past few months have meant many changes for everyone. The

imposed restrictions have seen us all spending more time at home. Our dogs have loved

having us around more and have enjoyed more attention and regular exercise. In turn, they

have been a great source of comfort for us all. However, it is important to realise some

dogs may not cope when things return to normal. When we inevitably return to work,

school and university, our dogs must once again adjust to spending many hours of the day

home alone.

Separation anxiety is when a dog becomes distressed and displays destructive behaviours

when they are left alone, or when their owner starts to prepare to leave. Dogs may whine,

bark, pace, urinate and/or defaecate inside the house, escape the yard, dig, chew window

frames, door frames or items around the home. They do not perform these behaviours

because they are “being naughty,” they are in a state of panic and distress. This can occur

after a change in routine and an increase in time spent home alone.

To help prevent separation anxiety, make sure your dog spends time alone, even when you

are home. Try putting him/her outside with a food toy, so that being separated from you is

associated with a positive experience. If your dog likes to dig, make a digging pit. This is an

area of your yard, away from the fence line, where you bury food and toys for your dog to

find. A sand pit or clam shell work well.

Teach your dog to settle on a mat or bed away from you, rather than always being beside

you on the couch. Encourage him/her to stay there, even when you leave the room. Try

working in a different room to your dog for some of the day.

Go for a walk without your dog, leaving him/her alone for initially a few minutes, then

gradually increase the time you are gone. There are Apps you can download that allow you

to set up a tablet to film your dog and then watch what is happening on your phone. This

will allow you to observe early signs of distress.

Make sure your dog gets enough mental stimulation. Spend time teaching tricks or

obedience commands each day. This can be more tiring for your dog than a walk. Keep

aside some of the daily calories to use for training. Dogs that receive a daily walk off the

property and mental stimulation are more likely to be settled when you are not home.

If you do find your dog gets distressed when you return to work, seek help early. Never

punish unwanted behaviours, as this will only make the situation worse. Veterinarians with

further training in behaviour can design a behaviour modification programme and assess

whether anti-anxiety medication would help your dog to cope. Please don’t hesitate to ask

for help.

Dr Nicole Gunton BVSc(Hons)

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