Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!
Q: I think my dog is suffering from separation anxiety. My neighbor complains about my dog barking while I am gone. I leave in the morning at 9 am and Bosco is left alone until noon. Then the dog walker takes him out. When I come home at 5 pm Bosco is asleep in his bed, and I never hear him bark. What should I do?
A: Unfortunately, barking is a very common complaint from neighbors. Barking can be a nuisance behavior; it is a form of communication with many different meanings. Dogs are social animals and barking can be due to loneliness, lack of mental and physical stimulation or anxiety and fears. If dogs bark when you are home and when he hears or sees other people or dogs walking by the apartment, then his barking is most likely stimulus or territorial barking.
This is a case for a nanny-cam. It sounds like Bosco is quiet and sleeps after his walk and is only barking in the morning. Roll tape! You’ll see whether Bosco appears anxious or if he is reacting to noises from the outside. You might also see other anxiety related behaviors such as whining, pacing or drooling. If Bosco is showing these signs he might have separation anxiety. This is a panic disorder where dogs are very stressed out when they are separated from their favorite person. In any case this is suspected an owner should contact the Veterinarian or a board certified Veterinary Behaviorist.
If you are certain that you can rule out anxiety, then you should take him on walk in the morning before you leave and give him some play time. He might be barking out of boredom, so you should also leave him with his meal in food dispensing toys and leave them around the house so he is busy eating his meals while you are gone. You can also leave the TV or music on so he does not feel alone.
If he’s barking at activity outside of your window, pull down the blinds so he can’t see other dogs and people walk by and “call” out to them.