Separation Anxiety

My Dog is Misbehaving When I’m Not Home:  Separation Anxiety

By NEOGR, Inc.

You’ve waiting patiently for your new rescued dog to come into your life. Once home, you’ve given him the best of everything – food, toys, beds, and attention.  He sucks up your love like a sponge.  He follows you around the house, and is constantly by your side.  He lets you know when he has to go potty and you let him sleep in your bed.  “What a perfect companion, “you think during that first weekend.  You couldn’t have asked for a better dog. 

Monday morning rolls around and it’s time to go to work.  You put your dog in the crate for the first time (because he was being so good over the weekend and you didn’t think he needed to be crated).  He’s okay while he can see you, but suddenly starts to howl and bark as you walk away and you are no longer in his sight.  Surprised, you come back to him and take him out of the crate and fawn all over him.  You are very nervous now and are afraid to leave him.  But, you must go to work, so you put him back in the crate.  With tears in your eyes, you say “good bye” and leave.  You hear him barking and whining as you pull out of the driveway.



Nine hours later, you arrive home to a huge mess.  Your perfect companion has urinated and defecated in the crate, he’s chewed the crate padding and he’s damaged the bars.  He’s nervous, panting and can’t wait to get out.  You are so full of emotion that you cry and hug him for several minutes.  Then you get angry when you begin assess the damage that he’s done.  You stick his nose in his soiled bedding and tell him what a bad dog he is.   He cowers and hides, so you think that he’s gotten the message.  The evening passes without incident and you think he’s your perfect companion again.

It’s Tuesday morning and time for work again.  Your perfect boy now refuses to go into the crate, so you decide to let him stay out for the day.  He’s happy until he sees you pass through the door and the barking and whining begins again.  Your neighbor calls you at work, complaining of the noise.  You arrive home to find that your perfect companion has torn down the curtains, urinated on the floor, chewed the cabinets and ripped a hole in the couch.  You can’t take this anymore and you take the dog to the pound.

While this story sounds extreme, it’s something that’s all too familiar to those who do rescue.  The outcome is also very predictable, given the mistakes that this person made from the very beginning.

This newsletter issue is dedicated to dealing with separation anxiety.  Sometimes, separation anxiety is created and compounded by the new owner’s behaviors and lack of understanding.  In the above story, the new owner gave the dog too much freedom, and no “alone training” during that first weekend.  All dogs need structure, rules and a routine.  Some dogs need more than others and those dogs are prone to developing anxiety when they are faced with new situations without being given the proper support.

Some dogs will develop separation anxiety months after they have been adopted.  It may have taken them that long to form a bond with their owners and once they have that bond, they can’t stand to be alone.  Some dogs may develop separation anxiety because they became scared while left alone – a loud noise, thunderstorm, etc.  Older dogs may develop separation anxiety in response to other health problems and/or declining sight, vision and smell.

Sometimes, even when an owner does everything “right,” a dog will still develop separation anxiety.  It may be due to the dog’s biochemistry – just as clinical depression is in humans.

While separation anxiety can be emotionally draining and expensive, there are many things that owners can do to help their dog develop independence and become comfortable being along.   The following articles provide a wealth of information.  Please note that not all techniques will work with all dogs.

Remember: If you are dealing with a dog that misbehaves when you are not home, it’s important to determine if the dog is suffering from separation anxiety, crate anxiety, or sheer boredom. 

Preventing Separation Anxiety in Your At-Risk Rescue Dog

by Sherrie Yuschak RVT

Some dogs may be genetically predisposed to Separation Anxiety (SA) but rescued dogs face another, more significant influence:  Broken human bonding.  Re-homing forces the rescued dog’s separation from their original care giver.  Sometimes this bond breaking even occurs repeatedly as the dog passes through the shelter, a rescue group, a family home and back again.  Each time the human bond is severed the dog, a highly social animal, can become increasingly anxious and vigilant of any situation that may indicate pending separation from their human.   Rescued Greyhounds and other kennel –housed dogs receive yet another trigger for anxiety if they are abruptly moved into a situation devoid of any canine companions.

Living with and rehabilitating a rescued dog that has SA can become a time consuming, emotional, and financially taxing endeavor that the average adopter is reluctant to endure.  Therefore, any steps toward the prevention or minimization of the disorder are both rewarding and essential.

Foster families should provide a constructive environment and progressively work toward instilling calm and confidence in their rescues in order to prepare them for the upcoming challenges of life in an adoptive family home.  For the group housed dog, such as the racing Greyhound, the dog should be gradually conditioned to be alone from people as well as other dogs.  Most greyhounds are accustomed to being crated which will facilitate separation and allow for these “alone training” exercises.

The SA prevention techniques that started in foster care and should continue into the new home may include:

•  A DAP pheromone diffuser, Nurture Calm pheromone collar and the scientifically-proven, calming music by Through a Dog’s Ear.  All of these products are designed to help dogs mitigate the stress caused by life’s changes.


DAP is available as a diffuser, spray or collar.

•  The Anxiety Wrap or Thundershirt decrease anxiety through the calming effects of swaddling


Dezi wearing a Thundershirt

•  A schedule of feeding, walking, resting and play times helps create consistency.  The foster’s schedule should be initially followed, whenever possible, by the adoptive family to provide a smooth integration.

•  Basic manners training, using positive reinforcement techniques is paramount to creating clear communication between people and their dogs and should be instituted by all care givers.

•  Mental stimulation provided through the feeding of meals with puzzle food dispensers such as the Kibble Nibble by Premier and hide-and-seek games using food caches.


Mental Stimulation Toy

** These brain challenge games are especially helpful for greyhounds who do yet know how to achieve success by working through the mild frustration of trial and error.  This will prepare them well for training.

•   Manners, trick training or dog sport activities are also great activities and despite the Greyhounds “couch potato” moniker, they can excel!

•  Aerobic exercise including brisk, leash walks, off lead romps in a securely fenced area and energetic playtime with people and other friendly dogs.

•  Avoid allowing the rescued dog to become hyper-attached to a person (foster or adoptive family member).  While many humans find it endearing and ego boosting to have a “dog shadow” that mourns their absence and excessively greets their arrival it is not healthy for the dog to endure such emotional turmoil.

•  Do not dwell on or make a grand affair of the comings and goings of people.

•  Encourage the rescued dog to act independently (the Manners Minder, puzzle feeder toys and stuffed Kongs in crates are excellent distractors).  Do not promote constant contact or enable attention seeking by the rescue dog.

•  Consider banning the rescued dog from couches and beds until the dog’s own confidence is restored and a healthy human relationship is formed.

Education is integral to SA prevention and all rescued dog adopters should be prepared with techniques and resources to maximize their success.  Make sure they are aware of the signs of SA such as drooling, vocalization, digging, urination, defecation, chewing, restlessness or lack of appetite when the dog is separated from his/her care giver.  Also most dogs with SA are very clingy and show signs of anxiety as their person prepares to depart.

Seek help at the earliest signs and arm them with a list of local veterinarians who are experienced with behavior problems.

Through careful planning and implementation of prevention techniques it is possible to minimize the likelihood of development or the intensity of Separation Anxiety in rescued dogs, like the retired Greyhound.  The techniques should start in the foster family and continue into the adoptive home in order to maximize effectiveness.  Another key to success is having a safety net of effective, professional resources ready to intervene quickly, if SA does appear.  This multi-faceted approach will provide the best chance at achieving everyone’s united goal of finding a loving, forever home for the rescued dog.

Registry for true, professional animal behaviorists:

Puzzle Toys:

Premier Pet Products             

Star Mark/Triple Crown

Nina Ottosson


Calming Products:

DAP/Comfort Zone/Adaptil                                       

Through a Dog’s Ear cd       

Nurture Calm                                          


Anxiety Wrap                            

Positive Reinforcement based training:

Clicker training information 

Professional dog trainers     

About Sherrie Yuschak RVT

“I graduated from Morehead State University with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Veterinary Technology in 1997. I was employed as a Registered Veterinary Technician at a small animal hospital for 11 years where I created and instructed puppy preschool, kindergarten and kitten social classes for 4 years.  On a daily basis I strived to contribute to the behavioral health of my patients through behavior modification, client education, staff training, and assisting the DVM with behavior consultations.

My varied behavior experience was attained through completion of Purdue University’s DOGS! course and their DOGS and CATS course.  I also gathered wisdom at the Clicker Expo and annual veterinary conferences as well as during active self- study.  My training skills were honed while teaching positive reinforcement based obedience training to dogs of all ages and dispositions for 5 years in both group and private settings”

Alone Training

It’s vital to begin to accustom your newly adopted to be alone from day one.  Start by crating (or baby gating) your dog in a room and walking in and out without paying any attention to the dog.  Increase the time away to a minute or so.  If your dog is quiet, increase the time to several minutes.  If your dog starts to whine, stay away until the dog is quiet and then move back into the room.  Timing is important as you do not want to your dog to think that crying and vocalizing will make you re-appear.

Repeat the comings and goings, staying away at random intervals from a minute to several minutes.  Go outside and walk to the end of the drive, open and close the garage door, etc.  If your dog remains quiet, take a walk or a drive for about 15 minutes and return.  Don’t make a big deal when you come back and don’t immediately let the dog out of the crate.  Wait several minutes and when the dog is quiet, let them out of the crate.  Repeat leaving several times during that first day, gradually increasing the time you are away.

It’s important not to pay too much attention to the dog during those first few days.  It’s hard, but sometimes it’s best to ignore the dog for a few minutes at a time.  See Sherrie Yuschak’s article above for more details

Medical Management of Canine Separation Anxiety

By: Amy Wolfgang, DVM

Separation anxiety can be diagnosed in your dog based on a combination of history and clinical signs that he or she is displaying. Symptoms of separation anxiety include destructive behaviors such as chewing or digging, inappropriate elimination, self-mutilation, excessive drooling or panting, pacing, depression, and vocalization. Affected dogs will often follow the owner obsessively and make aggressive attempts to escape when the owner leaves. Separation anxiety often develops as a result of change in daily routine or environment.  For this reason, it is commonly seen in dogs that have recently been adopted from shelters or rescues, especially in the retired Greyhounds. It can also occur in dogs that are not used to being alone and in older dogs as their senses become limited and they become more dependent on their owners. This type of anxiety is not only debilitating for the pet, but can also result in emotional and financial strain for the owner as well.

Fortunately, there are many treatment options for this disease once it has been identified and diagnosed. In mild to moderate cases, a combination of behavior modification exercises and homeopathic therapies can be successful as described in the article by Sherrie Yuschak. I would recommend trying these methods first as long as the dog is not causing excessive damage to himself or the environment. In more severe cases of separation anxiety that are not responding to conservative management alone, your veterinarian can prescribe medication that can be used to relieve the anxiety so that the pet can better respond to the behavior modification therapy.

As in human anxiety disorders, separation anxiety in dogs is caused in part by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Therefore, the medications help by correcting these chemical imbalances. One such drug called Fluoxetine (trade name Prozac) that has been used to treat human anxiety for years is now being used for separation anxiety in dogs in a product called Reconcile.  Reconcile is given once daily and is very safe and effective when used in conjunction with the recommended behavior modification plan that comes with the medication. Most dogs show significant improvement within 8 weeks of starting therapy. Side effects are rare but would include decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting or diarrhea.

To read more about Reconcile:

If side effects occur, another product called Clomicalm (drug name clomipramine) is also available to treat separation anxiety. It should also be used in conjunction with behavior modification and can take up to 8 weeks to be effective. Neither drug should be combined with other prescription anti-anxiety medications and should not be used in dogs with a history of seizures. Your veterinarian will decide if your dog is a good candidate for medical intervention and which drug is appropriate. If the medication is needed for an extended period of time, your vet will most likely want to check bloodwork on your dog periodically to look for any adverse effects.

In conclusion, do not become discouraged if your dog is having problems with separation anxiety as there are a wide variety of treatment options available. It may take weeks to months of therapy, but with the appropriate combination of behavioral modification training, environmental enrichment, and prescription medications, you can alleviate the anxiety that your dog experiences. It is important to note that medication is not a substitute for behavior modification training and will only work when behavior modification techniques are used concurrently.

Making Crates Comfortable and Effective

When we bring in a newly retired greyhound from the track, the first thing they typically do is head for a crate.  It’s a familiar structure and serves as a security blanket for them.  But, there are some things that we do to make their crates comfortable, effective and secure.


A comfortable place

1. We make the crate the most comfortable and attractive place to sleep by using foam padding covered in a soft fabric on the bottom, then adding a soft dog bed, blankets and a pillow covered in flannel or fleece.  Greyhounds don’t have much body fat, so the softer the crate bedding, the better. Be sure the crate is big enough for the greyhound.  A crate should be at least 48” long and tall enough for the greyhound to stand comfortably.  We use 36” high crates for the tall boys and 33” high crates for the girls.

2. We feed the greyhounds in their crates to set up a positive association with the crate.  We give treats and toys in the crate to reinforce those positive associations.


Happy hound

3. We put the crates in the room where we spend the most time, most importantly, where we sleep.

4. We never, ever use the crate for punishment.  Crates are happy places.  We reserve the tastiest treats stuffed in Kong toys for the times when we need to leave the greyhounds alone.  Often, they can’t wait until we leave so they can get the premier treats.

5. We place a sheet or blanket over the top of the crate to give the dog a sense of being in a den.  (You can also cover a piece of plywood and place it on top of the crate.)

6. We allow the hounds to “choose” their crates.  We have 8 crates set up in our bedroom and often the greyhounds will want to use a different crate each day.  If you have only one crate and your dog isn’t comfortable in the crate, try moving it to a new location.  Noise, proximity to heat ducts, and room lighting and shadows can mean the difference between liking and not liking a crate.

Once a dog is trustworthy in the house, he or she will be allowed to be out of the crate when we are home.  More often than not, the dogs are relaxing in an open-door crate.

We have received dogs whose previous owners report that they did not like their crates.  In all but one of these cases, the dogs did very well in the crates at our home.  Upon investigation, we found that the owners were using crates that were too small for the dog, were crating the dog too many hours a day, and/or were putting the crates in places where the dog was not comfortable and in places closed off from the rest of the family.

There are differing opinions about using crates for dogs with separation anxiety.  We have found that most dogs do better in crates, but some do not.  We won’t force a dog to use a crate if the crate makes the dog more anxious.  The bottom line is … make the crate as comfortable as possible and listen to your dog and let them tell you if, when, and for how long they need to use a crate.


Does Adopting a Second Greyhound Help with Separation Anxiety?


In many cases, the answer is “YES!”  Racing greyhounds spend their entire lives in the company of other hounds.  Even when they move to an adoption kennel or foster home, they are usually housed with at least one other hound.  Many times, separation anxiety develops when the newly adopted greyhound moves to a home when he or she is the only dog.  Adding a second dog can work wonders.

But, not all greyhounds with separation anxiety respond to a second dog.  In the more severe cases, a greyhound can bond with one person in the family and start showing signs of anxiety when that person in not in sight, despite the fact that there are other family members and/or dogs in the same room with the hound.

If you have a hound with separation anxiety, ask us about doing a trial week with a second hound.

Sherrie’s Training Tip

Q:  Can a greyhound be trained to bark when someone comes to the door?

A:  YES! However, because they are not a particularly vocal breed it would require more training time than a dog who barks frequently. Also, the bark alert may be rather specific to the trained task: bark at a person walking outside within visual range of the dog, or a knock at the door. If the person wants the dog to bark at other sights and sounds then additional training would be required since the dog is not inclined to bark based on his own desire.

The training path would be to reward the dog for barking. The reward should be given during or within 2 seconds of the bark and the reward should be very enticing to the dog. Think meat! If the dog gets rewarded frequently then he will bark more often.

A determination of the ease or difficulty of this task at hand is: can this owner trigger a bark in this dog? If the dog cannot be coerced to bark, and/or if he rarely ever barks on his own than it would take a very long time to have enough rewarded “barks” to create the association of “bark” = reward.

With commitment to training and consistency of rewards anything is possible through positive reinforcement training!!