Although it is not clearly known why it occurs, it is commonly thought that dogs seem to develop separation anxiety either because they are born with a predisposition to display anxiety or fear when under stress, or the owner has unknowingly facilitated the dog's neurosis by creating an inter-reliant relationship with the dog during early developmental stages. Regardless, separation anxiety can greatly affect the lifestyle of the owner who must deal with the destruction and constant complaints from neighbors.
These caring dog owners are desperately looking for the answer that might relieve the obvious suffering that their pet must be experiencing. Separation Anxiety is typically seen in younger dogs, especially when these pets are adopted from an animal shelter or rescue organization. It is not commonly seen in mature or older dogs, although dogs that develop separation anxiety at a very young age may be at greater risk for recurrences later in life.
Thirty years ago this condition was unknown in dog training circles. Today, it’s a rare dog owner who hasn’t heard of separation anxiety, experienced it with a one of their own dogs, or at least had an acquaintance whose canine companion reportedly suffered from this difficult disorder.
Separation Anxiety may also occur in dogs with a high inclination towards dependency - certain breeds may be more affected than others. Traumatic events in a young pup's life may also increase the likelihood of the development of overly strong attachments.
Dogs that experience separation anxiety are not being disobedient, nor are they behaving in such a way as to get the owners attention, manipulate or seek revenge for being left alone. Separation anxiety is a mental disorder and must always be viewed as such if the owner is to help the dog - to any degree that one can.
Almost all dogs affected will become overly or hyper-excited when the owner arrives home.
There is no easy way to resolve the problem once Separation Anxiety has developed. It will not go away on its own, and most often a complete "cure" is never experienced. But, there are many things an owner can do right away to begin to ease the symptoms.
Separation Anxiety can range from minor to severe. Depending on the level of symptoms exhibited, methods used to reduce the frequency and intensity will differ. It is very important to always keep in mind that punishing your dog will only cause the problem to escalate. It could even cause a dog with minor CSA to become a dog with severe CSA.
While it is very disheartening to come home to a shredded couch, feces-covered carpeting, or even just a note on the door from the apartment manager notifying you of a noise violation, the problem will not be resolved with verbal or physical punishment. This disorder must be dealt with using the psychology of the dog, and some preventative measures by the human.
Enroll in an obedience class or program from beginning to an advanced level so as to create a feeling of consistency and confidence in your dog.
Alter your departure routine. Keep it low-key. Your dog knows that picking up your purse or keys, checking doors and windows, etc. are your preparations for leaving.
Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like you. A used towel or old t-shirt that you've slept in recently can work wonders.
For mild anxiety, leaving your dog with a frozen raw marrow bone, a deer antler or a Kong filled with your dog’s favorite treat can help. Power chewing can relieve stress for many dogs.
Teach your dog a word or action that you use every time you leave that assures your dog you'll be back. Dogs easily learn to associate certain signals with short-term separation from their owners. For example, when you get the mail or take out the trash, your dog knows you come right back and won't become anxious. Therefore, begin using a unique word directed at your dog every time you perform these tasks such as "break-time" or "leaving".
Walk or exercise your dog before you leave. Do the same when you come home. This helps to disassociate the act with your departure routine.
Ignore your dog for the 30 minutes before you leave home, and for 30 minutes when you return. Never make it a big deal when you are leaving and especially when you return. Do not say good- bye or hello - hard to do but very necessary!
Anti-anxiety medications are sometimes used to reduce anxiety. Usually these medications are used only in severe cases. I only recommend them when all else has been tried and failed.
Holistic remedies can sometimes help. In most cases, drugs do not resolve the problem and should only be used in combination with a training program.
Punishment is not an effective way to handle separation anxiety. In fact, punishing your dog upon your return home may actually escalate his/her separation anxiety.
As a general rule, it is not advisable to get another dog or pet. Your dog is experiencing Separation Anxiety from you and your absence. The existence of another pet will not resolve the problem. But, for young dogs with very mild anxiety, getting another dog can be a solution - but only if you want another pet and can devote the time and energy for both.
Do not crate your dog unless he/she is already used to and fond of the crate. Crating can make matters worse and your dog may urinate, defecate, self-mutilate, howl, or even become injured in an attempt to get out of the crate.
The following exercises should be worked on when you are at home for an extended time, on the weekend or even in the evenings. These exercises won't eliminate your dog's Separation Anxiety but, they can help reduce the symptoms and possibly the severity of your dog's episodes. Introduce one at a time and over a period of few days. Practice a few times each day. You may need to start with shorter training periods. Use your best judgment. It is far better to start slow than push a dog with severe anxiety.
These exercises can take some time to garner results. Patience and consistency is the key. By using the crate or tether, you are accomplishing two things; getting your dog used to confinement, and in doing so keeping your dog from destroying your home.
You can use routines to actually help your dog deal with stress and anxiety. It can relieve your stress and anxiety in the process. Do one or more of these things on a regular basis throughout the week or month.
~ Find a good doggie daycare with experienced handlers who provide activity and interaction for your dog. A once or twice a week visit can make a big difference.
~ Have a dog walker, willing friend or family member visit once or twice a day a couple days a week.
~ Take your dog to work with you once or twice a week. These days many businesses are accepting of this practice.
John Rubin has been training dogs for over 27 years and has extensive equine experience as well. He is the founder of John Knows Dogs. LEARN MORE
Bonnie co-owns John's Natural Dog Training Company along with her husband John Rubin and is co-owner of Kamp Kanine. LEARN MORE
Jessica McCloskey is John and Bonnie's daughter and has been working with and training dogs from a very early age. LEARN MORE
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