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Greetings, Departures, & Canine Separation Anxiety

Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, PhD, Cornell University


April/May 2021

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In the Literature

Teixeira AR, Hall NJ. Effect of greeting and departure interactions on the development of increased separation-related behaviors in newly adopted adult dogs. J Vet Behav. 2021;41:22-32.


Separation anxiety is common in dogs, especially those adopted as adults. This study assessed whether high-arousal departures and greetings can lead to or be associated with separation anxiety. Many veterinary behaviorists suggest minimizing greetings and departures as part of a treatment plan for dogs with separation anxiety, and excessive greeting has been previously reported as a risk factor for separation anxiety.1 The first half of this study compared the behavior of shelter dogs after a high-arousal situation (ie, being played with, petted, and spoken to) versus a low-arousal situation (ie, receiving a calm and brief greeting, receiving a short petting interaction, then being ignored) before being left alone in an unfamiliar room. Heart rate, activity, and vocalizations were measured across 10 trial sessions. Initially, the heart rate and activity were higher in dogs after a high-arousal situation, but values decreased across sessions. Of note, these dogs were in a relatively barren room (not a home) and had no prior relationship with the human who interacted with them; thus, this may not be a particularly good measure of separation anxiety.

The second half of this study involved a more clinically applicable experiment in which a questionnaire for dog owners was posted on multiple dog-related Facebook groups, including a group focused on separation anxiety. Owners were asked how they originally greeted and departed from their dog, whether this has changed over time, and, if changed, how they now greet and depart from their dog. Responses from owners of dogs with (n = 978) and without (n = 1,012) separation anxiety were compared. Owners of dogs with separation anxiety reported engaging in low-arousal greetings and departures both when they initially acquired the dog and presently. Owners scored their dogs for separation-anxiety–related behaviors (eg, barking, destructiveness); these scores were not correlated with the intensity of greetings or departures. The authors concluded that high-arousal greetings and departures were not risk factors for separation anxiety; however, further research—including video-recorded observation of newly adopted dogs when owners leave and return—is warranted.


Key pearls to put into practice:


Separation anxiety may be more prevalent in dogs adopted after the sensitive period for socialization (7-16 weeks); owners of these dogs should be instructed to begin leaving their dog alone for short periods to habituate them to being alone.


Based on the results of this study, intensity of departures and greetings may not be correlated with separation anxiety, and it may not be necessary to advise owners to ignore their dog when leaving and returning home; however, further research is needed.


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