Back to School Blues

Has your dog been feeling the “Back to School Blues” since his or her human family members have gone back to school? Does your pooch bark, howl, chew, dig, urinate, become destructive or try to escape when left alone?

Although these problems often indicate that a dog needs to be taught some manners, they can also be symptoms of stress or anxiety. Separation anxiety is triggered when dogs become upset because of separation from their owner or family. Escape attempts by dogs with separation anxiety can be extreme, resulting in self-injury and household destruction, especially around exit points like windows and doors. Then, when the owner returns home, the dog often acts as though it’s been years since he’s seen his family.

As with most behavior problems, treatment involves altering multiple factors including the dog’s environment, how your family interacts with the dog, and, at times, the use of anti-anxiety medications in combination with behavior modification. Overall, the goal is to resolve the dog’s anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone. The following are some tips to ease your dog’s anxiety:

Before Leaving

  • Pay no attention to your dog for about 20-30 minutes before you leave.
  • Leave a special treat or a toy, such as a Kong to distract the dog when you go out, and remove the item upon your return.

When Returning

  • Ignore your dog until he is quiet and relaxed, then interact on your own initiative.
  • Do not reprimand your dog for destructive behavior or for urinating or defecating in the house.

At Home

  • Interact with your dog only at your initiative and when the dog is relaxed
  • Gradually increase distance and time away from home
  • Minimize your “departure cues.” For example, move your keys and purse around the home during times other than departure

If you believe your dog suffers from separation anxiety, and behavioral modification has not resolved his or her symptoms, contact your veterinarian.

For additional information regarding separation anxiety, see
The Humane Society of the United States’ Online Resource

Compliments of Northeast Animal Hospital
Gretchen Sutton, DVM

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