Check out the Michigan Humane Society blog on Wednesdays to see common pet behavior questions answered by our Senior Director of Operations and pet behavior expert, CJ Bentley. If you have an immediate behavior concern with your pet, please call a qualified trainer or behaviorist! If you have a non-urgent question you would like answered on the blog, you can comment here or email us at mail(at)michiganhumane.org.

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

“What can help with separation anxiety? We have a one year old Weimaraner and we crate him when gone for a while, but when gone only an hour, we are graduating him to leaving him out of the crate. The problem is that he chews everything if left home alone, not in his crate.”

We all hope our dogs can someday “graduate” to being free in the house when we’re not home. What’s important here is to be sure we’re not misdiagnosing separation anxiety. True separation anxiety is very, very serious and should always be properly diagnosed by a qualified behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist. Some symptoms (although this is NOT a diagnosis) are animals who panic and will destroy crates, hurt themselves trying to escape, and do most of their damage to exit ways like doorways and windows. They are truly in a panic and are trying to get out. Dogs who chew (like shoes, pillows, stuff lying around, etc.) when they’re home alone do not necessarily have separation anxiety. Now, they may be a tad stressed, to be sure. But they may also have learned that when you’re home they have to be good and when you’re not home – well, “when the cat’s away the mice will play” so they say. For you, if you truly suspect separation anxiety (and I hope that’s not it) you’ll need to seek professional assistance to properly diagnose it. And if it is NOT separation anxiety you can try the following: 1) practice giving your dog some “alone time” with him in one room and you in another. Give him a sturdy Squirrel Dude type toy filled with some of his kibble and let him play with a “good” toy with you in another room. Peek in on him from time to time to ensure he’s playing with the approved toy. 2) If you think he’s a little nervous being home alone you can try a Comfort Zone type diffuser to help take the edge off a little when you’re gone, 3) leave him for SHORT periods of time when leave the house…but not the yard…give him terrific, fun, food stuffed Squirrel Dude type toys and leave him alone for 5 minutes, 10, etc. Just sneak around and peek through a window at him – to make sure he’s okay. Slowly work your way up to longer periods of time alone. If you can get up to hour…you should be okay. Especially if he’s good in his crate, you’re really not in any hurry. Some dogs stay crated during the day for a few years before they are trusted home by themselves.

“I have a chocolate lab, Cash, who’s a little over 1 yrs old. He has HUGE separation anxiety. He escapes every crate, even tightly bungeed ones. He will hurt himself if we crate him. He has had lots of training and listens pretty well. He loses it when we leave the house. Chews stuff up, my house smells like dog anxiety sweat, literally bounces off the front picture window, etc. I’m at my wits end. Yes, we’ve done meds, natural remedies… Still bad.”

It sounds like – if you’ve already tried medication – you’ve probably pretty much tried it all. Separation anxiety is very miserable for the dog and for his family. I am very sorry that you and Cash are dealing with it. His situation sounds severe. Because this can be very tricky to work through and yes – in significant cases with confirmed and properly diagnosed separation anxiety, medication is often successfully utilized – it is more than we should we deal with here. My recommendation would be contact Dr. Theresa DePorter at Oakland Veterinary Referral Specialists at http://www.ovrs.com/. She can combine both medication and training to try help you and Cash.

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