By Chris Pitts, RVT, Broadway Animal Hospital, Eureka
We all want our dog to be bonded to us, but when your dog cannot handle any time away from you, he may have separation anxiety. Your dog can manifest the stress of your absence by chewing furniture, baseboards or door frames, digging, urinating in the house, or even jumping out of windows to try to find you. There are other signs that can be less destructive, but equally intolerable to your neighbors, such as whining or incessant barking.
Separation anxiety is a behavior to be dealt with as soon as possible. Once the behavior becomes ingrained in your dog, it is much harder to fix. An exam at your veterinarian is a good place to start. Your vet can evaluate your pet and see if there is an underlying issue that may be causing a behavior change, such as a urinary tract infection, pain or a metabolic imbalance. If these are ruled out, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medications that may help alleviate the stress your dog is having at your departure. Yes, dogs can take Prozac, among other things, to help them cope.
However, medications alone are not the final solution. Behavior modification can go a long way to helping your dog. For instance, crate training your dog can be helpful. Providing your dog with puzzle toys, or a Kong filled with his food, can provide a nice distraction for him while you are away, and provide a positive reinforcement for your departure. It is often recommended that medications are paired with several sessions with a good dog trainer and a behaviorist. We know it sounds like we just recommended Prozac and counseling for your dog. Rest assured, we did. The pairing up of different modes of relief has been found to be far more effective in correcting destructive behavior.
The ultimate goal is obviously to convince your dog that you are not abandoning him, and he does not need his pack-mentality survival instincts to ramp up every time you go to the grocery store. Doing your due diligence to get him seen by health-care professionals, and following through with a good treatment plan, can go a long way to keeping your baseboards beautiful, and your dog happily awaiting your return at home.