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Oh my gosh, there she goes again, oh geez, please don't go, please don't go . . .
Separation Anxiety is one of the most common complaints of dog owners. Dogs are pack animals and don't like to be left alone. Some dogs will simply sigh and wait patiently for you to come back, while others will go into panic mode, crying and barking. Some destroy things, such as plants, books, pillows, anything that was "yours", even to the extent of defecating on the floor.
Severely dependant dogs and dogs who have either been passed around or abandoned are more likely to have separation anxiety than others. The thought of being abandoned again is terrifying. Most owners unwittingly reinforce this anxiety by making a production of leaving and trying to reassure the dog. Nothing enforces a dog's belief that he has something to worry about more than somebody trying to keep him calm.
Like all fears, desensitizing your dog to your comings and goings will help him get over his fear of abandonment. It is best to stretch this process out, but if you need to, you can try to compress it into a couple of days.
You will greatly increase the chances of successful treatment if you make arrangements for your dog to be with someone whenever you have to be away from home for longer than your dog is prepared to handle. For instance, take him to doggy daycare, hire a sitter to stay with him, or take him with you.
What can I do to help alleviate my dog's separation anxiety?
The most effective treatment for a dog with separation anxiety is to accustom the dog to very short periods of time alone. At the same time, you must pair the experience of being alone with something wonderful, such as his favorite treats &/or toys. For this exercise, you'll need some hollow toys into which you will stuff tasty treats.
1) Just before you walk out the door, scatter a selection of treat-filltoys around the room.
2) Step out the door and wait for no more than 30 seconds to one minute.
3) Come back in. If he's still working on the toys, excellent! Remove the toys so he learns that he only has access to them when he's alone.
4) Repeat several times each day, gradually increasing the time you are outside the home. Periodically revert back to shorter times so that he is forever hopeful that you'll be right back.
Take things slowly! You should initially increase the time you're away by only seconds, and then work up to minutes. When you can be out of the home for four hours and your dog stays relaxed, you can probably be gone for a full eight-hour day. Continue to leave food toys that will keep him occupied for at least 20-30 minutes.
Should you leave your dog in a crate?
Placing your dog in a crate when you go out may prevent destructive behavior or stop him from escaping. However, he will still feel anxious and may howl, bark, and soil in the crate. Some dogs will even panic and injure themselves trying to escape from the crate. If your dog is accustomed to a crate and treats it as a "safe haven," then it may be useful. Place the dog in the crate and go through the steps as outlined above.
Tips & Tricks:
* Whenever getting ready to leave the house, make your routine less predictive and obvious. You can ignore your dog, practice "Sit" and "Down Stay," or distract your dog with a toy.
* Keep your departures and arrivals low key so your dog doesn't associate comings and goings with arousal and stress.* Practice short absences and gradually build up the time you are gone.
* Teach your dog mannerly ways to gain your attention, such as "Sit," "Down," and "Bring a toy." If your dog has learned he gets your attention by barking and mouthing, he may think the same while you're away.
* Give your dog plenty of physical exercise before leaving for lengthy periods of time, especially if you leave first thing in the morning.