Separation Anxiety and Aggression in Dogs

by Sarah
(Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England)

My pet Jack Russell is a lovely energetic perfect member of our family but for 2 things. 1st she will not be separated. If she is made to stay in a room on her own she barks constantly no matter what we do. When we have to go out and leave her we shut her in the kitchen and provide a radio and toys and she objects by howling and barking every minute until we return and sometimes messing on the floor even though she has just been a walk. It doesn't make a difference whether it is 10 minutes or 4 hours! She is calm, happy and placid at all other times even if the only person in the house is asleep!

Second, she plays really well with other dogs and has good social skills with a few doggy friends so why is it that we have to avoid other dogs on leads when we are out for a walk as she behaves like a wild uncontrolled snapping snarling thing straining on the end of the lead! If I let her go up to the other dog she is really aggressive even if they are disinterested!

Its very embarrassing!

Suggestions from our Vet on Separation Anxiety and Aggressive Behavior in Dogs

Hello Sarah,

Definitively determining why your dog is behaving the way she is will require a complete evaluation with a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about behavior, but I can talk to you about the conditions that seem most likely based on your description.

Separation anxiety is a common problem in dogs. It is important to remember that dogs who panic when their owners leave are truly scared, not “being bad.” The goal of treatment is to teach the dogs to relax, reward them for doing so, and promote a healthy rather than overly dependent relationship with people. The following techniques work in many cases:

• Pretend to leave (e.g., pick up your keys, put on your coat, etc.) but then stay or walk out the door but immediately come back in. As the dog begins to remain calm, gradually extend the amount of time you are gone.
• When returning home, ignore the dog until she is calm.
• Do not allow dogs to sleep in your bed.
• Ask or hire someone else to do things with your dog that she enjoys (e.g., taking her on a walk or feeding her).
• Give your dog special toys when you leave and put them away when you are home.
• Keep a television or radio on while you are gone.

In some cases, dogs need help relaxing in order to be more receptive to behavioral modification. Dog appeasing pheromone, over the counter anxiety-relieving preparations (e.g., Anxitane), and prescription medications have all been used with success.
Anxiety may also be playing a role if your dog has developed leash aggression. Being restrained on a leash prevents dogs from expressing themselves as they normally would, which can lead to anxiety.

Your dog is also probably picking up on your stresswhen you see a dog approaching on a walk. Problems like these tend to worsen over time unless they are addressed properly, so for everybody’s safety and peace of mind, it would be best if you made an appointment with a veterinarian who specializes in behavior.


Jennifer Coates, DVM

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