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Separation-related Disorders and Overdependent Behaviors
These problems are fairly common in dogs, and can occasionally be found in cats. Dogs are highly social creatures and evolutionarily have stayed with their mother and/or siblings continually. In our family, or individual household settings, we bond with our dog(s) and they with us. Sometimes they bond so strongly that they follow us from room to room wherever we go. And there are times when they get depressed and/or anxious when they are left alone. Most dogs habituate to these departures, but often circumstances and/or inherent tendencies drive their reactions in a negative direction. When we are home with them for extended periods of time (summer vacation, illness, unemployed, etc.) and then return to work, suddenly leaving them alone, they can become significantly distressed. This can also happen if they experience some significant fear when left alone (e.g. bad thunderstorm), and now they are fearful of being left alone in that location. Reactions range from the mild to the severe. They can include, but are not necessarily limited to, any combination of the following: Distress vocalizations (barking/whining/howling), hypervigilance (e.g. looking out windows for owner), destructiveness (chewing/scratching/digging), attempts to escape (jumping out windows), elimination (excessive or inappropriate urination/defecation), agitation/restlessness/pacing, vomiting, self-trauma (licking/chewing @ their feet/legs), aggression to owners @ the door as they are trying to leave, and intense/prolonged greetings upon owners return. These problems can be solved most often w/ a combination of anti-anxiety medication, change in structure/content of owner/animal interactions, and behavior modification exercises which desensitize the animal to its fear of owners departures. Overdependent behaviors can be present unaccompanied by separation anxiety. When a dog is always underfoot, and you find yourself stepping on it or tripping over it; or if you just wish you could get a quiet moment alone; or if your dog just doesn't seem like it can get comfortable until it can get under your skin, then your dog is overdependent. This, too, is treatable.