Dogs are popular family pets because they are extremely social, closely bonded to their human pack, and faithful. However, these same characteristics contribute to a very typical behavioral problem: separation anxiety. Read on for tips on easing dog seperation anxiety and helping your pet feel confident and comfortable when alone.Dogs are popular family pets because they are extremely social, closely bonded to their human pack, and faithful. However, these same characteristics contribute to a very typical behavioral problem: separation anxiety. For dogs, the pack equals survival. The pack provides shelter, food, and security, and gives a dog a role and a purpose. An isolated dog may feel insecure and stressed out.
Separation anxiety might be part of your dog's nature, or it may be brought on by a traumatic event or alteration to your dog's lifestyle. Signs of canine separation anxiety include excessive barking or whining, destructive chewing or scratching, and indoor urination while left alone. Destruction of property is an indication of your dog's internal anxiety, and should not be treated as bad behavior. Remember, this stress is caused by the dog's attachment to you - it is not vindictive behavior intended to punish you for leaving.Canine Separation Anxiety Prevention Tips
Britten Canida, Head Trainer and Behavior Counselor for The Happiest Dog on the Block, offers some tips to help prevent separation anxiety in a puppy, and to encourage your puppy to learn to be confident and comfortable when left alone:
Do not spend every waking moment with a new puppy. Take short, 15-minute trips away from the puppy throughout the day, gradually increasing the length of time, while reducing the frequency.
Create a positive environment for the puppy when you leave. For example, a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter, kibble, and other treats will keep your dog pretty busy - and content. You can even use a stuffed Kong for breakfast.
Desensitize the dog to your routine. Your dog pays attention to everything you do, and will soon learn that getting the keys means separation - and this triggers separation anxiety. Make a list of the things you do when you are preparing to leave (get your keys, put on your coat). Then do these things - but don't leave. Sit on the couch, or watch TV. Keep your dog guessing!
If a dog is already exhibiting separation anxiety, don't worry! In addition to behavior modification, there are things to help avoid worsening the situation. Canida suggests that when you return home to a destroyed door or a messy floor, don't punish the dog. "Many owners are convinced that their dogs 'know' they have done something wrong." she explains.
This is not true - the reason you are greeted at the door with a guilty-looking dog is that your pet is responding to your body language and facial expressions, which may communicate frustration and dissatisfaction. "It is futile to punish the dog," Canida explains, because the dog "will make no connection between the owner's anger and the 'redecorating' that was done earlier that day."
For extreme cases in which the anxiety has escalated, Canida advises medical intervention. "A dog that injures itself trying to escape the home constitutes a severe case of separation anxiety in which medication may prove helpful," she notes. Medications like Clomicalm have been approved by the FDA, and may calm down your dog. The good news, though, is that there's hope for all. Separation anxiety can be treated for dogs of all ages.