Separation Anxiety | Why Buffy (The Dog, Not The Vampire Slayer) Always Walks Backwards Through a Door

Separation anxiety is very common in dogs.  And, the dog symptoms are very unique.  The behaviors associated with the distress of being in the absence of their pet parent or not having adequate access to their pet parent can manifest in the destruction of property, chewing, peeing, pooping, barking (and the subsequent law enforcement officer showing up at your door), and more.

Online vet talks about Separation anxiety in a Shih Tzu

It is estimated that 14% of dogs have separation anxiety in some form.  Although dogs are the main patients who usually start showing signs at the age of 12 to 36 months, cats are also affected but at a slighter older age.  My sister’s cat has separation anxiety manifesting as self-mutilation. Unfortunately, she spent a lot of money at vet offices trying to figure out why her cat chewed on her nipples before driving a far distance to have us check her out.  Her cat got very attached to her when she was at home with an illness for over a month, and when she went back to work, the separation anxiety ensued.

That is not uncommon… when a pet has exclusive access to a person and they are suddenly cut off from them, they feel abandoned, their stress increases, and they try to cope with “abnormal” behaviors – like nipple licking in my sister’s cat’s case.  Other contributing factors to separation anxiety (SA) include traumatic occurrences in the absence of their pet parents (lightning strike, a break-in, or a fire), or severe illness that decreases the pet’s ability to cope.

One of the most common misconceptions is that pets that have separation anxiety have been spoiled or have been coddled.  This has been disproved in the behavior literature.  Explain how your pet is behaving and ask a vet if your pet may have signs of separation anxiety.

Buffy, The Moonwalker

Here is an example of a dog that had acute onset of SA after a traumatic occurrence while their pet parent was not home.  Buffy is a 13-year-old Shih Tzu who was brought to my office for destroying pillows and pooping on the carpet.  Buffy never did this before, but the strangest thing was that her behavior changed after a thunderstorm and that she suddenly began to walk through the sliding door to the sun room backwards – only when leaving the sun room to go back into the living room. She also had disappeared in the basement for several hours until she was pulled out from behind the drier after a thunderstorm.

Walking backwards- I wanted to see this so the client took a video.  I should have kept that video. Turns out, after Buffy was done sunning, she would walk to the sliding door, do a 180, and then walk backwards for four feet, turn around and run.  It turns out that lightening struck while her back was turned during a lightening storm, so she had to be sure to “watch her back” and destroy things to cope.

Separation anxiety is over represented in the population of storm or noise phobic dogs.  But one thing is for sure, if you pet is showing signs of separation anxiety, the longer you wait to treat it, the harder it is to fix.

Therapy is very important.  It is recommended that if your pet has a diagnosis of SA that you should really start them on medications to help with their stress so they don’t injure themselves.  I have seen pets with SA show up with broken teeth and ingestion of wall material and worse.  If you don’t want to try medication with a training/behavior modification program, it is recommended that you don’t leave them alone.

If you have an open mind…and you should, you should check out holistic approaches to SA.  I have had success with tape-recorded-sounds to decrease SA symptoms of pets with anxiety (consider the radio, TV, ocean sounds, etc).  You must check out “Use of Herbal Remedies to Control Pet Behavior” if you are open to non-traditional medicine – you just need to be careful.

Behavioral modification has worked, as the only treatment, with variable success.  This involves rewarding for decreased reactivity, desensitizing the pet to departure cues (such as getting your car keys, putting on your jacket to leave, etc.).  I have had great success with some dog that are food motivated to freeze a food puzzle into a Kong and drop it on the floor a few minutes before leaving.  The most important thing is that you do not punish them for SA behavior.  This can really screw with their mental health because the one person that they need in their life to not feel upset and stressed is punishing them.  There are so many behavioral modification techniques, but here is an article focusing on the basics.

Dog chewing a rawhide - keep them entertained | Ask the vet

What happened to Buffy?

Buffy went through behavioral modification and was fortunate to have a retired pet parent to work with her.  She didn’t really respond to the therapy, in my opinion, because her owner was almost always home and couldn’t truly do the therapy to desensitize for departure cues and give her enough practice at being alone being okay.  We actually had to put her on a behavioral drug, fluoxetine (generic Prozac which costs less than $4 a month for a small dog) and after a few weeks, the destructiveness began to subside. 

Buffy is no longer on the medication and was tapered off months ago.  Buffy no longer destroys the furniture or poops at the door on the carpet.  However, Buffy still, and probably always will, walk backwards through that sliding door.  Buffy’s pet parent is okay with this and shows this off to dinner guests who find it absolutely hilarious.

Leave a comment if you have questions about separation anxiety!

Dr. Jed

Dr. Jed Schaible Signature

Online Vet Dr. Jed Schaible VMD | Ask a vet online

Check out some related blog posts...

  • Ask a vet for advice on choosing a pet
    Part 2, by Online Vet Dr. Laci Trying to answer the question, "What breed is best for my home and family?" Okay, you've decided if you are going to go dog or cat, but the the next decision is a bit more difficult. Whether it is important to you to ...
  • Reviewing EPI in Cats
    Yes, it can happen The following is an excerpts from a real answer from the pet parent of a 12-13 yr DSH cat that was been diagnosed as a diabetic 3 years ago. Her diabetes is well-regulated, but she has loose and very pungent stools. Hyperthyro...
  • Dog Diabetes: Ask the Veterinarian
    I thought we would do something different today.  We receive a lot of questions about canine diabetes mellitus, and it seems to be a commonly confused topic in veterinary medicine for pet owners.  Today I wanted to share with you a portion of a Q&a...
  • Ask the vet: What is the deal with Pet Dental Care?
    Having the conversation with pet owners that are dubious that their pets need dental care is a repetitive part but essential part of being a veterinarian.  It is true that periodontal disease is by far the most common disease I see in dogs or cats ol...

Tags: , ,


October 18, 2010 at 16:47

Hi there! Is it alright if I go a bit off topic? I’m trying to view your page on my iPad but it doesn’t display properly, do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance! Elvis

October 20, 2010 at 13:41

Technical difficulty reporting is welcome! We need to know these things. We will have a look at the ipad issue. Thanks,

October 18, 2010 at 16:54

Well, you mention here things that really made me think.

October 20, 2010 at 12:30

Yeah- separation anxiety can be a difficult problem. You kind of have to step into the shoes of being their “Shrink” and understand that dogs and cats are really social creatures.

October 19, 2010 at 10:37

I like that you go straight to the point in your latest posts, appreciate!

November 1, 2010 at 15:50

Excellent story, saved the blog with hopes to read more!

November 1, 2010 at 17:59

Don’t forget to sign up to get our blog in your inbox every day! Thanks. Dr. Jed

November 10, 2010 at 14:45

I congratulate, very good idea

May 9, 2011 at 09:00

It’s a noble urge to want to adopt a dog, but remember: that dog is in an orphanage for a reason.

September 8, 2011 at 03:56

I really must make the comment that it’s quite pleasing to discover an original blog such as this one, excellent effort. I I hope to be coming back frequently and I’ll be keeping an eye out for your next comment then, so long for now.

November 11, 2011 at 08:55

Nice info ;) Thanks for your time… ;)

November 12, 2011 at 10:47

Than You!

November 22, 2011 at 04:09

I’m honored to obtain a phone from a buddy mainly because he identified the important tips shared in your site. Browsing your website publish is really a real outstanding knowledge. Many thanks for taking into consideration visitors at all such as me, as well as I wish you the very best of success as being a professional domain.

March 15, 2012 at 19:52

Love the blog, sincerely, Adam. Dream Smile Center, Dr. Jeff Bartlett 2440 East Sunrise Blvd. Fort Lauderdale FL 33304 (954) 246-4126

April 15, 2012 at 01:19

Its amazing how much more attention I receive from the other gender when I have a squirrel feeder!

July 27, 2012 at 12:12

I go to the store and buy Wellness. Its hard to find in stores thugoh, you can always go on the wellness website and search for locations that it’s sold. I’m lucky that the store is around the block from my house thugoh.

April 18, 2012 at 04:17

It’s a legitimate nice and helpful little bit of information. I’m glad that you shared this particular helpful info with us. Please retain us informed like that. Thanks pertaining to sharing. Haha. My cat used to hiss with the dog continuously, and because she has been so little her hiss sounded Much like the toaster popping up. Another awesome thing -hugging a person’s cats even when you know many people hate them.

April 18, 2012 at 14:51

hi, I enjoy reading your site. You site looks great! Bivonas.

April 25, 2012 at 14:49

Online Vet Talks About Separtion Anxiety | Ask a Vet Online 24/7 | VetLIVE … Goodness me wow I need the idea service. It’s the newbie My partner and I noticed it still I Loved it.. Most certainly will certainly return, you got many of content articles in here :D ok back to tasks now :-)

May 3, 2012 at 04:01

Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group? There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Thanks