Ask the Vet: Help your dog deal with separation anxiety

Dr. Ray Cahill

Q: I’m having a hard time getting my pup into her crate every time I go to work. When I get home, she jumps up to lick my face, nips and wiggles, and I end up getting scratched. She has chewed up a few shoes as well. How can I help her overcome this behavior?

Christine C., Georgetown, Mass.

A: Many dogs become anxious when the owners are not around, and the behavior you describe is common in dogs diagnosed with separation anxiety. In fact, this type of anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed behavior issues in dogs.

For such dogs, the first step is to help reduce anxiety by exercising them for 20 minutes twice a day, preferably before leaving for work. (This assumes there is no medical contraindication to exercising them.) Dogs appreciate this constructive interaction and will be less likely to become stressed as they pick up the cues that tell them their owner is getting ready to leave the house.

Next, it is important to foster a sense of independence in dogs with separation anxiety. One helpful technique is to completely ignore him/her for 20 minutes before leaving and 20 minutes after returning from work (or shopping, etc). This will de-emphasize the importance of coming and going, whereas giving attention when coming or going reinforces the attention-seeking behavior and ultimately worsens the anxiety related to being separated.

It is often best to first try this technique while making short trips out of the house (for 15 minutes or so) and building up to longer and longer periods of time that you are away.

Your vet can diagnose your dog’s behavior and outline a plan to help move your dog away from anxiety and toward feelings of security and self-dependence. They may recommend anti-anxiety medication or even refer you to a behavior specialist for additional consultation.

Behavior disorders can put an enormous strain on the relationship between a dog and its owner, and such issues need to be given their due.

Dr. Ray Cahill owns and operates SeaPort Veterinary Hospital in Gloucester, Mass. Submit questions to