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Hi, I was watching a dog over the weekend, and before the owners went away, they said something to me that made me instantly think their dog had separation anxiety- "Sometimes she goes and poops downstairs by the back door when we are gone because she is mad at us..." First of all, this dog is perfectly potty trained, which makes me think she has separation anxiety, and the fact that dogs don't normally do something like that if they're 'mad'. I didn't really think of it too much at the time- until she tore up the couch. I took her out for a walk about an hour before her family came home from their trip. When I went to leave, all was fine, and she was happily chewing one of her bones. On Monday I saw the owners son, who told me when they got home the couch had a bunch of holes in it and there was foam everywhere. She tore the heads off a few stuffed animals also. So sometime within a little less than an hour, she managed to remodel their couch and give some stuffed toys a makeover. I am almost positive she has separation anxiety, and I feel that I need to tell the owners, since they don't seem to know what signs to look for. Any advice is appreciated!!
 

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We have pet-sat dogs before as well, so I completely understand you when you say you feel the need to tell them something but aren't sure completely how to go about it.

Separation Anxiety in dogs is caused by the fact that they feel as though their pack is abandoning them and they do not know when they will return (often it is not a consistent schedule and when it is consistent they are gone for so long it still stresses the dog). A dog that feels trapped, alone, and without its pack and friends builds up nervous and anxious energy as it waits. This may lead to bad behavior out of pure boredom, or it may be due to actual fear and stress.

A dog may not show any sign of anxiety prior to someone leaving. It may try to follow them, bark, or show signs of depression of anxiety. It depends on the dog, the situation, and the owner.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in dogs includes: Barking and howling, using the bathroom indoors (perhaps because of fear they won't be let out, though in some animals it actually is when they are frustrated that they will do this. However, I don't think this is all that common in dogs), attempting to escape or escaping by chewing, scratching, or shoving; digging and chewing at the carpet, furniture, toys or the crate; pacing and other signs. These signs can lead to destruction of the owners house or injury to the dog. The stress on the dog can also make them less healthy.

There are some triggers to separation anxiety besides just being gone for a long time: this is when an owner leaves at a time not according to schedule and does not return with-in a day (vacation); leaves with a lot of energy or when anxious, which builds up the dogs anxiety as well; when a dog changes houses or families; medical problems can also cause some symptoms.

Cures to true separation anxiety may be simple or complex: with time an owner can use the simple trick of praising a quiet, calm dog and teaching it being alone is okay. The owner should take the dog on a run or play with it to get out its energy. Make sure they are not hungry (low-blood sugar can cause issues in many smaller dog breeds) and that they have water and a familiar place to rest, as well as toys they know they are allowed to chew on. The owner can then leave for a few minutes. Cameras, windows, or other means can be used to watch the dog. If they are behaving, return to the house and calmly praise it (don't make a big fuss over returning or it may actually cause separation anxiety). Do this for longer and longer periods and the dog will realize that staying calm is not a bad thing and that the owner will return.

Another method to help is locking the dog in one room or even in a large crate. This may seem mean in some ways, but actually the crate is a comforting thing to many dogs that are given it as a bed or retreat. They will learn the crate means being calm. However, it does mean they will need plenty of exercise when outside the crate and long periods in a crate are not good for any dog. Locking them out of a room with breakables can be helpful as well.

A single dog that was raised from a puppy around humans becomes human dependent and does not know how to behave like a dog. They are use to living with a pack that is constantly there and for this reason some dogs do best with a friend, especially one that is calm and there to play, cuddle, or just sit near-by and keep them company.
Offering chew toys, kong treats, and other long lasting things to keep a single dog busy is helpful, but it doesn't always treat the loneliness.


Remember: Many dogs will destroy things out of boredom as well as loneliness. This means that a long walk, jog or hike to get out nervous, anxious, or excited energy is a great way to avoid destructive behavior, along with other unwanted behaviors like barking, pacing, aggression, even pulling on the leash and jumping.

Hint: The best way to keep a dog calm is to not make leaving or returning a big deal and to have them understand that you will be returning. If a dog has problems during pet-sitting then having them stay at another person's house will distract them, keep them busy, and give them something to focus on besides their owner being gone. We have pet-sat many dogs and when they come over to our house they tend not to show signs of separation-anxiety, though are always glad to go home.

Telling an owner about a dogs behavior can certainly help. We have told our friends when their dogs were too thin and the amount they should eat, how to help get their energy out, and how to teach them not to bite. Show them information written by an expert, so they understand it is based on research what is being done and that other dogs suffer the same problem. Another important thing is to make sure they do not feel like it is their fault. You will be helping both them and their dog by showing them either with videos/articles/books on dog behavior, writing something yourself, talking to them, or even showing them how to prevent anxiety and boredom while alone at home.

I know this was long, hope I didn't ramble too much. : )

I hope this information can help. Best of luck! :)
 

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Hint: The best way to keep a dog calm is to not make leaving or returning a big deal and to have them understand that you will be returning.
Totally agree with this and prolonged routine walks can make them more calm since they are tired. May be they can have another pet companion she can play with instead of toys :ponder:
 

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Thanks for the very good commentary about separation anxiety. I adopted my Beagle from a local shelter and he has had this problem from day one. I am retired so I can be with him most of the time, but when I do go out he pitches a tantrum of barking and whining like I've never seen. After I leave, he goes to a place near the driveway and just shuts down until I get home. When I get back, he shows his happiness to see me by a lot of running and barking. The shelter didn't have the background information but I'm guessing that he had been left alone for long periods of time.
 

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Poor guy. Yeah, sometimes its hard to know if a dog had a bad past that causes a behavior (being left alone for long periods or locked away from people) or if it is just part of their personality. Cleo, a dog we had with extreme anxiety issues, acted as though she had been abused her whole life but really was just a very shy dog and still is, even though she is treated very well. We believe she may not have been fully socialized when young, but even though her daughter is very well socialized she too suffers from anxiety issues.
Sometimes it is the dogs that are treated the best that have the most issues with separation anxiety because they bond so closely to their owners they become dependent. Dogs that were orphaned when young or taken from their mother (or other dogs) too early and raised by people may especially have this problem.

I hope things go well with your beagle. Its awesome that you adopted him, even with his behavior troubles. I volunteer at a local shelter and we have a lot of dogs with behavior issues, most of which aren't your typical aggression or even fear. Many of them just haven't been shown what it means to live a stress free life in a nice house with a nice family. They are very, very hyper and tend to pull on the leash and jump a lot because they want to be with people all the time but there just aren't enough staff members and volunteers to do this.

One dog we have at our shelter now, Coralyn (Cory), is a dachshund that suffers from a condition called double merle (when two merle dogs are bred together the improper levels of melanin in the brain cause developmental disabilities). She is blind and possibly partially deaf as well as small for her size with small, white eyes and a narrower skull then what I have seen in many other Miniature dachshunds. She was obviously used for breeding for years, as her nipples are very large and her stomach stretched. She was found as a stray, blind and likely cold because of her short fur and thin frame.
She's such a trooper about it all. However, when she is alone in her crate, even if it is warm and soft with plenty of food and water, she will cry for someone to hold her or take her for a walk. She doesn't mind being blind, she was blind her whole life, what she does mind is not knowing when someone will return for her. Its so hard when I go in and hear her cry for someone to come for her but have to take care of the other dogs. I just want to hold her forever. She would cuddle for hours if you let her, wrapped up in the safety of your arms and knowing you won't let anything surprise her.
I have to wonder what causes her separation anxiety, since I can hardly believe anyone who cared about their dog enough to tame it and love it would breed a blind female who suffered from a genetically heritable deformity. But she is so sweet and, like I said, such a trooper. She'll wag her little talk and hop around in the grass with no fear of anything, following scent trails like any hound dog. She knows how to use her nose and ears to watch out for anything she might run into (being short helps her avoid bumping her head and toes into things, since her nose gently touches them first like a blind person's cane).

Sorry for the long post, I just always feel the need to share Cory's story because its so hard to believe a tiny little blind Dachshund could possibly survive as a stray for any amount of time and still adore people and long for cuddles and walks and adventures. I certainly hope someone with the time and effort to give her everything she needs can adopt her and give her a wonderful, long life.

Keep up the good work guys with your dogs. Its so worth helping them. : )
 
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