Please Don't Leave Me! When Dogs have Separation Anxiety, Frustration and Fun
Dogs are a true companion animal. They want to be a companion as well as have a companion for themselves. It is somewhat common for young dogs to bark, whimper or howl for a spell when left completely alone. If a dog has had good things happen when you go - say given a rawhide or food puzzle then that dog learns to be independent. If a dog has learned that a crate is a good place by getting fed in a crate or given a special toy when going into the crate, then they settle in the crate well.
If a dog has not had consistent positive use of a crate or area of confinement, then the dog will see this area as a place of banishment and isolation. This can create the frustration of being left and result in pawing, chewing, or busting out of a crate. All the fighting then leads to more anxiety and can escalate into full blown separation anxiety. Now some dogs that get out of the crate may be crafty, and actually having fun escaping from the crate. If your dog is getting out of the crate it is very important to observe and report all the types of damage and disruption you see. Catching your dog on video is extremely important in making the correct diagnosis of Separation anxiety/frustration or fun.
Dogs that are not confined may show signs of soiling in the house, destructive chewing, or "pack ratting" - gathering up all your personal items and pooling them all in their bed. This may be confusing - is the dog having housebreaking problems, bored or what? It is very important to find a veterinarian trained in animal behavior to help screen for physical problems, normal unruly behaviors or true anxiety problems. If your dog keeps busting out of a crate, stop buying new crates. The crate may be the problem in the case of barrier frustration or there may be triggers that sends your dog into a panic attack and they maybe fighting to get out. The right diagnosis needs to be made, and then the treatment started to help your pet. Dogs that hate their crates may do better out of any crate. You could use a baby gate to block off an area that will prevent destructive chewing but not be as confining. We often see rescue dogs frustrated by crates. Some rescue dogs may have been heavily crated in the first home; some may have spent a long time in a rescue caged for long periods. Others may have never been in a crate before and it is strange and scary. Dogs can break their teeth, skin the nose and take other hurt to themselves when they are so panicked to get out. They don't take this personal hurt just because they are mad. Call us for a consult if your dog is doing any of this before your dog really hurts themselves.
Now some dogs are bored and rearranging the pillows, gathering up your stuff, or knocking over the garbage for fun. Video is your friend here! You would be amazed at what your pets are doing when you are gone - have you seen the YouTube video of Hank the mastiff that got in the garbage? Clues that it is not anxiety is the lack of damage - no torn up carpets, dug up flooring by a door or window for example.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote