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We have a 2-year-old Purebred Basset, with a mild, friendly temperament. About 2 weeks ago we came off of holiday, and our dog stayed in a boarding kennel when we went away. He has never suffered from separation anxiety before.

When we tried to leave on our first day back to work, he flipped out, scratching the door after we left and scratching the window furiously as we drove off. No one has been in the house during his time at home, so he hasn't been spooked in his own environment by an intruder. Could an experience at kennels create such behavior?

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Separation anxiety is something that is common in dogs and could be caused from a variety of reasons.

Separation anxiety is triggered when dogs become upset because of separation from their guardians, the people they’re attached to. Escape attempts by dogs with separation anxiety are often extreme and can result in self-injury and household destruction, especially around exit points like windows and doors.

When treating a dog with separation anxiety, the goal is to resolve the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone. This is accomplished by setting things up so that the dog experiences the situation that provokes his anxiety, namely being alone, without experiencing fear or anxiety.

It seems like your dog was used to shorter periods of time alone, however being alone for a longer period of time while you were on vacation may have triggered the separation anxiety.

With some dogs, a change in their routines can create the symptoms of separation anxiety. After being neutered or spayed we spoil them because they have been to the vet and had an operation. We feel sorry for them and reinforce their “neediness.” A new baby arrives in the family and the dog suddenly gets demoted, even ignored, with no preparation for this change. Moving houses or leaving the house for long periods such as a vacation, after you have been at home most of the time (even just the change from the weekend to the work week) can bring on the symptoms.

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If your dog has never shown these behaviors previously, it is possible that you can decrease his separation anxiety by re-training him and making small changes in order to get him more comfortable by himself:

  1. Before you leave the house, take your dog for a walk. Start your day by taking your dog for a brisk walk. To make the walk even more rigorous, use a dog backpack with extra weight in it. Then reward your dog's calm-submissive energy with food and water. Some dogs may need to rest before eating, but all dogs can benefit from hydration. The idea is to leave your dog in quiet, resting mode while you are away.
  2. No touch, no talk, no eye contact. Don't make a big deal when you leave for the day or when you return. This way, you are communicating to your dog that the time apart is no big deal. It's just business as usual! Depending on the severity of the dog anxiety, you may need to practice the rule for five minutes or up to an hour before you leave and when you get back.
  3. Say goodbye to your dog long before you leave. Having trouble practicing "no touch, no talk, no eye contact"? Take a moment to share affection and tell your dog that you will miss him way before you actually leave. Keep in mind that this display is for you, not your dog! Your dog won't have his feelings hurt if you didn't say goodbye.
  4. Stay calm and assertive! When you are ready to go to work, leave those guilty, nervous, and concerned feelings behind. Instead, let your dog know that everything is going to be okay by projecting the confident energy of a pack leader. A calm and assertive leader can ease separation anxiety in dogs.
  5. Start out small by leaving your dog alone for just five minutes. Leave your dog alone for five minutes, then extend the time to twenty minutes, then an hour. Continue to increase the time you spend away until you can leave for a full eight hours without any more dog problems!

If you find none of this works, there are many well-written articles online, such as Dealing with Dog Separation Anxiety that discuss more in-depth training and behavioral issues surrounding SA in dogs.

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I haven't experienced this myself, but I recently read "I'll Be Home Soon! How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety" by Patricial B. McConnell and in it, the author talks about this sort of thing. Basically, any one thing can cause your dog to become stressed and fearful when she wasn't before. Maybe someone or another dog at the kennel scared her during your vacation :(. The road to recovery may take a little effort: you'll need to counter condition the dog to help her to feel safe again when you leave. I definitely don't recommend just letting her work it out on her own because you might come home to find your house trashed! I'd recommend the book -- it's a quick read -- and will give you some ideas and comfort in your reconditioning work. Good luck!

  • Agree. .. McConnell gives great advice – Beth Whitezel Jun 3 '14 at 6:27

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