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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Features November 2016 Issue

Sudden Behavior Change with Separation Anxiety

The kind of anxiety that finally triggers a change in many a dog’s behavior is separation anxiety. It often occurs when the children go back to school or after Christmas break, Dr. Borns-Weil says. Having everyone around and then being left alone again puts the dog over the top. He starts acting out rather than just acting anxious or depressed.

“A large number of dogs do not like to be left alone,” Dr. Borns-Weil says. “It doesn’t take a lot for some of them to get to clinical separation anxiety. Many walk around with that vulnerability.”

To get past it, a dog generally needs a full step-wise desensitization and counter-conditioning program, where the owners teach independence by training longer and longer down-stays while they are home, and try to take the dog’s mind off his aloneness with environmental enrichment — plenty of toys left around, food puzzles that make it take longer to eat, a birdhouse right outside the window, and so on. It takes patience, and may sometimes take medication, but over time a dog will usually be able to tolerate periods of aloneness.

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