Some dogs just naturally seem more anxious all the time than other dogs, but this is something quite different. To determine whether this is indeed a case of separation anxiety and not just a case of Trixie trying to ease her own stifling boredom, ask yourself these questions:
Does she follow you from room to room when you are home?
Does she whine if you close her up in one room while you stay in another?
Does she begin her whining, barking and destructive behaviour within minutes of you leaving the house?
Does she mostly chew or hoard things that smell most like you?
Does she have to sleep in your room at night—possibly even in your bed?
Does she become excited and “clingy” when you arrive home?
A yes answer to these questions suggests that Trixie’s problem is in fact separation anxiety. While the chewing, barking, whining and destruction mimic the signs of boredom, Trixie’s actions at other times are a clear indicator that she is reacting to your leaving her. She is not punishing you for it, mind you, merely expressing her acute distress.
Fortunately for both of you, there are solutions. The first is behavioral. The key here is to teach Trixie that it is okay for her to be alone because you will return to her. Chances are there are certain things you do before you leave the house that Trixie takes as cues — rattling your keys, opening the coat closet, putting your shoes on, turning lights or the television off – and these initiate her anxiousness. To begin helping her adjust, do these things once or twice but don’t leave the house. That is, rattle your keys and put on your shoes, then go into the kitchen and have a cup of tea. Don’t give her a lot of attention, but don’t ignore her. She should remain relatively calm. Then, and only then, should you leave the house. Do something similar next time you leave. Eventually, the cues that set her off will cease to hold so much power.
Downplay your departures. Don’t treat your leaving as an event of major significance, and don’t give her lavish attention just before you slip out the door. Instead, talk to her calmly and reassuringly as you go about your leaving preparations – remembering your work with the cues, of course – and then leave without fanfare. This encourages Trixie to take your departure in stride. When you return, downplay this as well: don’t rush to her with an effusive greeting, but try to keep things low-key for the first ten minutes or so of your return. If she is happily crate-trained, you might be able to lock her in it all day. It’s usually best, however, to let her have the run of the yard, or some part of the house, so she can move a round while you are gone-if she’s tired, she is less likely to get herself worked up over your absence-and keep the crate as her main sleeping area.
Keeping her occupied will help, too. There are plenty of toys on the market that allow you to insert a treat or a scoop of peanut butter that Trixie must work at to remove. This will divert her attention in those crucial early minutes after you have left, and let her have a little fun, too.
Another thing that can help is perhaps the most fun: play with her until she’s so tired she can’t stay awake long enough to walk to your shoe, let alone nosh on it. Trixie should be running, jumping and playing for at least an hour a day to keep her body and her mind exercised. If you know you will not have enough time to do this every day, try “enrolling” her in doggy daycare where she will get the daily exercise and attention she needs to thrive.
There are rare cases where all the behavioural training in the world doesn’t seem to ease Trixie’s fears of being left alone. In these cases, a visit to the veterinarian may be in order. Only clomipramine is actually approved for canine use, so you may find your veterinarian reluctant to prescribe anything else. Sadly, too many humans refuse to take the time and work with Trixie’s behavioural problem and look immediately for a pharmaceutical problem, but doping your dog does not cure the problem, only hides it. Besides, you want her to miss you; you just don’t want her to miss you so much that she eats your socks.