Clinic Hours:
Mon-Fri 8 to 5:30
Sat. by appointment only

31310 Woodhaven Trail
Cannon Falls, MN 55009

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Phone Numbers:
651-258-4050 office
651-258-4051 fax
651-222-0885 Twin Cities


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Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a distressing behavior problem with serious consequences for owners as well as their dog. In the United States 14% of family dog’s exhibit exaggerated signs of anxiety when they can not have access to their family members. It is more common in mixed breeds that have been adopted from humane societies or pet adoption organizations. The underlying issue involves hyper attachment to one or more family members and increases with the amount of time owners spend with them. When the owner is home, the dog constantly keeps the owner within eye sight by following them from room to room. They are very needy and expect constant physical contact. Environmental stress such as (a move to a new home, a traumatic event, or altered social relationship) may also trigger the anxiety. Older dogs are often affected because of the physiology of their aging brain, cognitive dysfunction, or medical issues.

Some owners think the destructive behavior is purposefully directed towards them because their dog is retaliating for being left alone or confined. This behavior is not motivated by spite or revenge but by anxiety. Punishment increases their stress and escalates the problem. Dogs chew up and damage their owner’s furniture and personal items because their scent is on the items. Having contact with the items reminds the dog of their absent owner, which causes anxiety and triggers destructive displacement behaviors.

The treatment for separation anxiety involves building the dogs self esteem and independence, by adjusting their relationship with their owner. It becomes a vicious cycle, because as the anxiety increases the dog seeks more attention and reassurance from their owner. The more attention the owner provides, the worse the anxiety gets. In severe cases, we recommend a medical work up which includes; a thorough physical exam, chemistry panel, and CBC. A fecal exam, urinalysis, or thyroid evaluation may aid in the diagnosis as well. If needed, medication may be prescribed.

Predeparture Anxiety
As the owner prepares to leave (picking up the car keys, briefcase, purse or coat) the dog starts to exhibit:

  • Signs of anxiety (increased activity, restlessness, pacing, high pitched whining, barking or howling)
  • Signs of depression (withdraws, reluctance to move, sad facial expression, or refuses treats)
  • Signs of physiological changes (panting, hyper salivation, or vomiting)

Attention Seeking Behaviors

  • Without realizing it, many owners pay more attention to their dogs when they are misbehaving.
  • Dogs who do not receive enough attention and positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors, may engage in destructive behavior when their owners are present to attract attention. Positive reinforcement of a negative behavior is not wise.
  • From the dog’s perspective: Negative attention such as scolding is better than no attention.
  • Their destructive behavior may be directed towards (windows, doorways, items or personal possessions that have the owners scent).
  • Dog’s may exhibit (chewing, scratching, house soiling, barking, hyper salivation, vomiting, self mutilation, withdrawal, anorexia, depression or lethargy)


  • Make sure your dog receives positive attention every day (obedience training, quickly responding to commands, aerobic exercise, play training and walks).
  • Provide positive reinforcement for the quiet behaviors (laying quietly, playing quietly with dog toys, giving eye contact-“watch me” exercise).
  • Use the concept “Nothing in Life is Free” for your dog. Teach them, if they immediately respond to your commands ---positive reinforcement will follow in the form of verbal praise, physical reward and edible treats. When handled in a positive manner, they learn they do not have to misbehave to get your attention.
  • Organize your house and remove the “off limit” items that he/she prefers to damage or chew on.
  • Shut the doors or use gates to protect certain areas of the house.
  • When your dog looks at “off limit” items – give the command “not yours” or “leave it”. If they pick it up - give the command “give” and practice exchanging the item with a dog toy or dog treat.
  • Do not provide comfort for your dog when they misbehave. Instead give them a job such as responding to obedience commands or play training to tire them out.
  • Do not allow the dog to get attention on demand. It should be given on the owner’s terms not the dog’s demands.
  • The dog should remain calm for all owner departures.
  • Achieve this by desensitizing your dog. Use repetitive actions of picking up the keys, putting on your coat, opening and closing the doors.
  • Also use cues that are associated with daily calmness such as (treats, leave the radio or TV on)
  • Practice short mock departures.
  • The length of departure time should gradually be increased.
  • When you are unable to be with your dog, crate them if they perceive their crate as a safe place.
  • Homecoming should remain calm (no excitement).

Punishment is Improper Correction

  • Punishment is rarely effective in resolving destructive behavior issues. In fact, it makes it worse.
  • If you do not catch your dog in the act, it is too late to correct or punish them. Delayed punishment provokes other undesirable behaviors as well.
  • From your perspective, you may think they look “guilty” because they cower, run away or hide.
  • From your dog’s perspective, they exhibit submissive posture because they feel threatened by your angry tone of voice, angry facial expression or body posture. They only know their owner is angry!

    We understand how stressful separation anxiety is for owners as well as your dogs.
    Call today, fill out the Behavior History Form and return it to CVS.


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