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Categories: Separation Anxiety

Q. My dog has hip dysplasia and he gets very upset when I drop him off for his physical therapy at the university. He settles down as soon as I’m out of sight. Is this separation anxiety?
Hi Cindy -

I have a 2 year old neutered male German Shepherd who is very friendly to people and other dogs (we won't talk about cats rabbits, and squirrels at this point) I work full time - so I leave him at home for several hours a day - so it's not like he is used to being with me all the time. I also have a 8-year old neutered male Pembroke Welsh Corgi who lives in the house too - but they are separated when I leave. They get along great - it's just that sometimes Ben (my shepherd) gets a little rough when they are playing. He weighs about 100 lbs and the corgi is only 35 lbs) - It's often my corgi who initiates the play. I don't like to leave them together unsupervised - because I am afraid that my corgi might get hurt if they get playing rough. Until May of this year, I also had a 15 1/2 year old Pembroke - who was definitely the alpha dog of the group.

When I leave Ben at home he doesn't show any signs of anxiety. He has a small room with a crate in it, there are a couple of big windows and 2 doorways - one blocked with just an x-pen. When I am getting ready to leave - he happily trots to his room - gets his treats and lays down. He has not been a destructive dog.

Ben is dysplastic and was already starting to favor his right side. I had heard about a program at MSU where they do rehabilitation (and physical therapy) for dogs. I took him for an evaluation and they thought that he would definitely benefit from the program. They said that the muscles on his right side were 8 cm smaller than the left. So I put him in the program - and he is doing great. He goes 2 days a week. I drop him off on my way to work and pick him up on my way home - so he is there from about 7:15am to 4pm. He Loves the underwater treadmill (he loves playing in water - any kind, anywhere). He is cooperating great with them - they are so impressed with how quickly he learns and how enthusiastic he is with the different things that they do with him.

The problem starts when I first leave him - he carries on, and I have never seen him act like this -crying and being very vocal - this morning I saw him really pulling on her as I was leaving. She tells me that as soon as I am out of sight - he is fine. He is attentive - good in his cage/crate, very friendly to all the people and other dogs, easy to train and work with. When I take him there in the morning - he is very happy - he seems excited when we get to the clinic - very happy going inside - goes right up to her and seems happy - but as soon as I hand over the leash and walk away - he starts carrying on. What worries me most is that the anxiety seems to be getting worse.

What would you suggest I do to help this situation before it escalates?

A. This really isn’t classic separation anxiety and if he calms down as soon as you leave I wouldn’t worry about it too much. This is very common, when dogs are left at the vet or groomer. It’s like kids being dropped off at daycare..many of them cry until the moment their parents are out of sight.

Since he’s well adjusted at home, I don’t think I would call this separation anxiety. I would suggest you change your attitude when you drop him off and behave like it’s no big deal. No acknowledgement of his behavior, no trying to calm him down. Don’t look at him or reinforce this behavior at all. Matter of factly hand over his leash and walk out.

Cindy
  
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