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"Separation Anxiety" is the term used to refer to a serious condition in which dogs go into an absolute panic when left alone. Separation anxiety, which can occur in any breed and at any age, is one of the most common reasons why dogs are euthanized or given up by their owners.

Dogs with separation anxiety may bark incessantly, chew or dig (particularly at doorways and windows), and urinate or defecate in the home (even when housebroken). In some cases, these dogs even injure themselves in their attempts to escape the home. It is important to distinguish between a dog who truly suffers from separation anxiety and one who is just bored, not housetrained, or destructive.

Dogs with separation anxiety are not just being "bad" or trying to "punish" you for leaving them. They have what amounts to an anxiety attack when left alone, and they cannot control their own behavior. Punishing a dog for panicking in your absence only makes the problem worse, because it increases the dog's anxiety. It is important to remember that dogs are social animals. Any dog who is alone 8-10 hours a day, nearly every day, may begin to exhibit obsessive behaviors that may or may not develop into separation anxiety.

Because these dogs require special care and control to live both happily and safely, we are limited in the number of them that we can provide for at any one time.

Generally, the only real option is to work out the problem within your household. Given this behavior, it is unlikely that you will be able to find a new home for your pet.

Although separation anxiety is very disturbing for both you and your dog, there are several steps you can take to correct or at least minimize the behavior. A big part of working through separation anxiety with your dog will be adjusting the way you relate to your dog, particularly when leaving and returning to your home.

Depending on the severity of the problem you might be able to work on the problem using simple techniques to desensitize your dog to the triggers that cause the separation anxiety. To learn more about how you can work to correct this behavioral problem in your own home, please read this fact sheet: http://www.bestfriends.org/theanimals/pdfs/dogs/separationanxiety.pdf

While working on the problem, it may be helpful to take your dog to "doggie day care" a few days per week, or to arrange to have a pet sitter or someone spend time with the dog while you are away during the week.

Many people find the best way to go is to consult with someone who specializes in behavioral issues. Here are some options:

Consult an animal behaviorist. An animal behaviorist attempts to understand the reason for the behavior by considering the animal's history, temperament, environment, experience, etc. After making a diagnosis, a behaviorist would help you understand the way animals learn, and how you can work specifically on the behavior problem to control and/or correct it. You can ask your vet for a local referral or visit the Animal Behavior Society website at: http://www.animalbehavior.org/Applied/CAAB_directory.html

Work with a trainer. A trainer works differently than an animal behaviorist. In most cases, a behaviorist is more appropriate for help with a serious behavior problem. If no animal behaviorist is available locally, and you want to work with someone in person, check out the programs of local trainers. Trainers vary in their experience, services, and training techniques. Make sure that you are comfortable with the person you'll be working with. Information on choosing a trainer, Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) can be found at http://www.ccpdt.org.

Use a behavior help line. Here are some examples:
* ASPCA Companion Animal Services Behavior Help Line (New York), 212-876-7700, ext. 4357.
* San Francisco SPCA Behavior Help Line, (California), 415-554-3075. You may leave a voice mail message 24 hours a day. Within 48 hours, a behaviorist will return your call (collect) or they will send you written information.
* University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine Behavior Clinic, 215-898-3347. If the clinic is not open at the time of your call, their recorded message will give you their call-in hours for the week.
* Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine Behavior Clinic (Massachusetts), 508-839-7934. This clinic offers consultations for a fee.

Consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may be a helpful resource for you, since some vets have experience with behavioral issues. There are also some medications available for assisting with some behavior problems. If you use a holistic vet, he/she may be able to recommend some alternatives to drugs as possible treatment for the problem behavior. You could also ask your vet to consult with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at one of the university behavior clinics, such as Tufts University.

We also recommend the following books: "The Dog Who Loved Too Much" and "If Only They Could Speak" by Dr. Nicholas Dodman. These books describe many of the drug and behavior modification therapies that are available to treat behavioral issues.

In addition, there are excellent chapters in each of the following books that deal specifically with separation anxiety:
- "I'll be Home Soon!" by Patricia McConnell
- "Choosing a Shelter Dog" by Bob Christiansen
- "Dogs are from Neptune" by Jean Donaldson
- "The Dog Listener" by Jan Fennell

Unfortunately, when working on the behavior is not an option, or if it has been tried without success, there are not many alternatives. Finding another home is rarely a choice (usually only when there is a friend or family member who is willing to take the dog).

We sincerely hope that something can be worked out for you and your dog.

Thank you to Best Friends for allowing us to use these help sheets.