By Nan Talleno

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Separation anxiety is one of the most common of canine behavioral problems.

Undesirable behaviors may include excessive barking, whining, chewing, scratching, digging and overall hyperactivity when separated from his/her family or when left alone in the house. This occurs in many dogs but more commonly in dogs who may be insecure, high-strung or fearful. This can also occur when dogs encounter new circumstances or a change in their lifestyle.

This can promote instability and anxiety. These dogs would benefit greatly from safe boundaries, training cues and structure, just like all dogs in general.

Fortunately, this behavior most often can be changed.

First the dog must be considered to be in good physical health as determined by your vet. Always make sure your dog has been properly walked and is supplied fresh water before you leave the house. Make sure to redirect your dog to a calm state before leaving. Never leave your dog in anxiety.

Remember never to punish your dog but rather work through a series of planned departures by leaving the dog alone for short intervals at first (just seconds, then increasing to minutes and so on) all the while, watching your dog closely for signs of anxiety and stress.

Do not continue this exercise until your dog can remain calm for shorter intervals. Leave and return without any excitement whatsoever, just calmly praise and offer a treat if necessary, (but without overexcitement) if your dog remains calm. It is extremely important to leave and return calmly without drawing attention to you or your dog and praise quietly upon return.

Leave again and return gradually bringing the time up to 30 minutes with supervision. When your dog can remain calm for over an hour, in most cases, he may remain home alone.

For severe cases, seek out a professional trainer or behaviorist.