Domesticated dogs naturally prefer the companionship of their humans. It’s one thing to have your dog follow you around the house amiably, however; it’s quite another to learn that your dog howls relentlessly when you’re at work or defecates in the house to show his displeasure at your absence. When your dog’s behavior in your absence seems extreme, he might be experiencing separation anxiety.
Canine separation anxiety is a set of behaviors that occurs in some dogs when their owners or “family” are not present. These behaviors include “destruction, vocalization, elimination of urine and/or stool, anorexia, drooling, attempts at escape, and/or behavioral depression,” according to Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, as stated in her article “Separation Anxiety in Dogs” (Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, 2001).
Symptoms and treatment
It is important to realize that the symptoms listed above are not always indicative of canine separation anxiety. They can be indications of boredom, lack of exercise, or poor or incomplete house-training. Medical conditions can cause many of these symptoms as well. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms in your absence, it is important to talk to a veterinary behaviorist for an accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan. In this author’s opinion, separation anxiety may be the second most over-diagnosed canine behavior problem after dominance. However, it is important to address any and all individual problem behaviors. A competent veterinary behaviorist should be able to offer effective behavior modification techniques for any of the symptoms, whether or not they result from canine separation anxiety.