A dog with separation anxiety will show distress and behavior problems when left alone. The most common behaviors include:
- Digging and scratching at doors or windows
- Destructive chewing
- Howling, barking and whining
- Urination and defecation
How do you know if your dog has separation anxiety? If most or all of these statements are true, your dog may have separation anxiety.
- The behavior occurs when the dog is left alone and typically begins soon after you leave.
- Your dog follows you from room to room when you are home.
- The behavior occurs whether you are gone for short or long periods of time.
- Your dog reacts with excitement, depression or anxiety to your preparations to leave the house.
There are many possible causes of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can begin in dogs who have been abandoned at key points in their psychological development, who were not properly integrated into their first home and got moved to a basement, garage or yard , who were removed from its mother and littermates too early (prior to 8 weeks of age) or too late (after 14 weeks) , who have endured a traumatic event (such as a frightening experience at a shelter or kennel), or a significant change in their household (such as a new person joining the family), a move to another house, or a change in the owner’s work schedule. Some dogs tend to become extremely attached to their new person, and then insecure when that person leaves, as a result of losing a previous home and person to which he was attached.
How to help a dog with separation anxiety:
For many cases of separation anxiety the following techniques will help.
- Don’t make a big deal when you leave and come home. No emotional goodbyes when you leave or excited hello’s when you return. When you get home, ignore your dog until he is calm and then give him attention.
- Retrain your dog to accept absences as an ordinary event. Start by leaving your dog for very short periods of time. After a few days of the leaving/return practice sessions, increase the duration of absences randomly so the dog can’t guess when you will return.
- Desensitize departures. Dogs are very good at reading body language and humans are a creature of habit. So chances are your dog can easily tell the difference between you going outside to bring in the mail and your departure for work. Your dog will notice cues such as you getting your coat and bag, taking out keys, turning off lights.
One way to reduce your dog’s anxiety about being separated from you is to desensitize the cues by engaging in your pre-departure routines without always leaving the house. Put on your coat and pick up your keys at times other than when you are actually going out. Keep grabbing your coat and keys and putting them back down again until your dog doesn’t bother getting excited anymore. If there is something else that triggers your dog’s anxiety over your leaving, such as putting on your shoes by a door or switching lights on or off, throw these into the mix as well. This exercise will help desensitize your dog to the anxiety-starters that signal your departure.
- Ignore attention-seeking behaviors (barking, pawing at you). Do not respond when your dog demands attention. This helps teach your dog that he can’t manipulate you to get attention. Yes, you can give your dog attention, but for the needy or separation anxiety dog, it’s best if you initiate the attention, and as much as possible, tie attention to desired behaviors (laying quietly on their bed, sitting polity for petting).
- Teach sit, down and stay. This can help to teach your dog how to relax in one spot when you leave. Reward your dog with positive reinforcement – praise, or praise plus treats – for staying calmly in a position for increasingly longer periods of time. Gradually increase the distance you move away from your dog so that you can eventually move briefly out of your dog’s sight while he remains in the “stay” position. The idea is to teach him that he can remain calmly in one place while you go to another. When practicing these leaving/returning sessions, increase the duration of your absence randomly to prevent your dog from learning to guess when you will return.
- Obedience training, practiced daily, helps a dog develop confidence by giving him a sense of accomplishment. However, realize that obedience training alone will not lessen separation anxiety.
- Sign up for a positive reinforcement-oriented obedience class. An advantage of group classes is that you can sometimes have another handler work with your dog in the class, helping lessen the dog’s distrust of other people and situations.
- For the dog’s home-alone place, choose a safe, puppy-proofed room. It should be a place in which the family regularly spends time, such as a kitchen or family room. If there’s no door, block the entrance with a sturdy baby-gate or fencing. Doggie-proof the dog’s room. Latch cabinets, keep plants out of reach, close bathroom doors or at least keep toilet lids closed. Keep this den-like area safe. Make sure the windows are closed, too; anxious dogs have been known to push through partially closed windows and tear through screens. Prevent access to items that you don’t want your dog to chew, since chewing is a natural impulse to dogs, and the nervous canine usually feels an increased need to chew. Remove shoes, collectibles, tablecloths, baskets and other items.
- Make sure dog has safe, mentally stimulating activities when you leave him alone. These include access to safe chew toys, including Kong-type toys that can be stuffed with food for long-lasting enjoyment. You can stuff Kongs with treats, peanut butter, wet dog food, fry food or a combination. This will help counter-condition the dog to see departures as good. A food-stuffed or food-smeared toy can occupy him for up to a couple of hours, and even distract him enough that he won’t notice you’re leaving.
- Play music. Choose classical music or easy listening, since the idea is to help calm your dog. Note: Playing music, radio or the TV work only if the dog has learned to consistently associate the sounds with being alone in a non-anxious state. So practice playing the sounds when you are home.
- Leave a T-shirt you slept in or other soft clothing item that has your smell. However, don’t use old shoes, since you don’t want to encourage dogs to chew other shoes that are often accessible.
- Feed and then vigorously exercise your dog before leaving for work. A tired dog is more likely to remain calm. Vary your dog-walking route to provide extra mental stimulation for the dog Remember, most dogs need two brisk walks of at least 15 or 20 minutes. Some dogs need more. Make sure you make time in your schedule EVERY day.
Punishment and yelling will not work to cure separation anxiety. Punishment will only aggravate the situation by raising the dog’s overall anxiety and compounding it with fear of his owner. Remember that separation anxiety is a panic response; he is not being destructive because he is mad at you for leaving. Also remember that if you are stressed out, that will only add to your dog’s anxiety. Stay calm and unemotional when dealing with bouts of separation anxiety.
If you need help with dealing with separation anxiety, contact us at 803-210-9380 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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