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DR. NICHOLAS DODMAN: SEPARATION ANXIETY – THE HOME ALONE SYNDROME

101118_4177_dodman154.jpgSome of the sweetest dogs in the world have separation anxiety. These dogs are a joy to be with and love their owners unconditionally. We sometimes call them Velco dogs because they are so attached to their owners – practically joined at the hip. The problem comes when their owner leaves to go somewhere.

When alone – and only when left alone – these dogs get stressed to the point of sheer panic and act out in certain ways that owners find difficult to accept. Doors can get damaged, micro-blinds torn down, furniture trashed, and there’s often distress barking that can drive close neighbors crazy.

Some of these dogs get so scared they have accidents on the floor – so owners come home to find an unpleasant surprise waiting for them. As bad as this situation is for the owner, it’s probably worse for the dog – and in their heart of hearts, most owners recognize this adding their guilt and remorse into the equation.

Signs of Separation Anxiety
• Following the owner from place to place
• Pre-departure anxiety
• Vocalization* (barking, howling, or whining) (in about 70 %)
• Destructive behavior when left alone* (in about 60%)
• Pacing and panting
• Houdini syndrome (will escape from anything or injure themselves trying)
• House soiling when alone* (in about 30%)
• Salivation (severe cases)
• Psychogenic anorexia
• Exuberant greeting

Having at least three of these signs – including one or two of the cardinal signs (asterisked) is grounds for a diagnosis of separation anxiety.


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Dr. Dodman is a Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and Director of the school’s Animal Behavior Clinic. He is also Chief Scientific Officer for the CENTER FOR CANINE BEHAVIOR STUDIES. He has written over 100 scientific articles and several popular press books, including The Dog Who Loved Too Much and The Cat Who Cried for Help.

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