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Separation anxiety can be triggered by a change in the family and a change in routine.How you and other family members leave the house may be affecting the dog in a negative way. Prolonged, high energy farewells may actually be making the separation anxiety worse, making the dog feel more isolated.
You’ve pumped the dog up and now you’re leaving him to figure out what to do with that excited energy. Unfortunately this pent up energy is let out by destroying the furniture, chewing the window frames,chewing the baseboards and scratching the door among a host of other things.
Separation anxiety occurs when a dog accustomed to your constant companionship is left home alone. This may be returning to work after a three week vacation spent with him or you’ve been home for a month with a back injury that is now resolved and you return to work. It may also have been a vacation where you have been constantly together.
Other Things That Trigger Separation Anxiety
Changing your work hours or a change in routine. Dogs are creatures of habit so changes in their routine can be upsetting.
Giving your dog to a friend or family means a change to the dog’s environment. After being adopted than surrendered back to the shelter and than being readopted may be a trigger. By the time this all happens the dog has to be stressed.
It requires adjusting to a new home, new routines and new people. Dogs can find this very stressful.
Moving to a new home with you requires an adjustment. It may also be stressful particularly to dogs that are already stressed for other reasons and be a trigger for dog separation anxiety.
The death of the pack leader or another family member can be a trigger. This is traumatic to all of the family members. The daily routines change and no time is spent attending to the dogs and giving them the time and attention they are used to.
The lose of a canine companion can trigger it. The dynamics of relationships change. The loss of the “alpha dog may be felt more deeply. Dogs who are closely bonded may feel the loss more.
Major life changes such as a death in the family. This may mean a change in roles, routines and activities.
When you have a baby your routine changes as does your focus. No longer is the dog your only “baby”. It may be important to set a new routine for the times you feed and walk the dog.
The time and attention he once received is gone. All he hears now is “no”, “get out”,”move and “don’t touch” in not so pleasant tones. A room that he was once allowed in is now off limits. His feeding time has changed or been forgotten. He barely gets a pat on the head and there’s no such thing as a “walk”. The back door opens and he is let out, no more sharing time with dad when he takes a smoke in the back yard. The dog may become jealous and see the baby as a rival.
A new pet enters the home and this may be disruptive to your dog especially if the newcomer demonstrates some dominant behavior. Your focus changes to accommodate the new pet and jealousy may develop and trigger separation anxiety. Choosing a new pet without first seeing if the two pets will be compatible may be a big mistake. Your home has been the first dogs territory. Growling and “funny looks” may erupt into an all out fight.
You get a new boyfriend or girlfriend who are taking up your time. The dog is left home alone more and more as your dating and getting to know each other. The dog may see the boyfriend or girlfriend as a rival. No more sharing special treats at night while watching TV together. Your not allowed on the couch anymore because you growl at the boyfriend or girl friend when they try to steal a kiss. In time you are no longer allowed to sleep in the bed with your owner. This is a perfect setting for separation anxiety.
Overly excited behavior when you are going out and coming in can create excitement. What’s a dog to do when it has no way to exert that energy?
After the dog has been boarded for a long time. He’s missed you. You’ve made changes to the house. You changed the room where he normally sleeps. You got a new roommate. That’s a lot of changes for any dog anxious for your attention. He may feel lost when things are not the way he remembered them and you are not acting the way he remembered.
It may be poor training. Forgot to take your dog to puppy class? You wonder why he pays no attention to any of your inconsistent commands and changing rules. Are there any rules? Unsure of what you want can make your dog feel lost. Words mean one thing today and something else the next day. Dogs need guidance and rules for behavior. No matter the size or how cute all dogs need at least the minimum of puppy class for learning the basic commands and socialization. Especially with first time dog owners. If you can’;t afford a class borrow a book from the library , find information on a computer or ask for help from someone who has a well trained dog.
The Symptoms Of Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can be mild or severe, but is treatable though there are opinions that it can’t be cured.
One of the key symptoms is a dog that is glued to the owner’s hip when they are home. The dog follows the owner from room to room and is stressed when he can’t see them
The urination and pooping in the house only occurs when the dog is home alone.
The behavior occurs no matter how long you are gone.
The dog exhibits overly excited greeting behavior.
The dog does not like going outside to eliminate or spend time by himself/herself
In severe cases of Separation Anxiety the dog may chew on itself.
A normally friendly dog may become aggressive.
House trained dogs that can’t control their bodily functions due to anxiety may try to escape the home through a window or sliding glass door to get out and relieve itself as it normally would outdoors.
You should have your vet check your dog to access if there are other reasons for your dogs behavior.
It’s time for a visit to the vet. It’s important to check the dog’s health if this is a change in his normal behavior. Allow your vet to assist in determining whether the dog’s behavior is truly separation anxiety. Some of the symptoms we attribute to separation anxiety may not be it at all.
You need to find out if it is bad behavior, if it is a training issue or things such as submissive urination, poor house training, teething, boredom or a fear of storms.
Its important to also rule out the diagnosis of disease such as GI upset, kidney disease, diabetes, Cushing’s Disease or seizures.
What Doesn’t Work!
What not to do! Don’t yell and scream at the dog when you find the mess. He has no idea what it’s all about. Don’t rub his nose in the urine and stool. It means you have more to clean up. All of this just increases the dog’s anxiety and may make him afraid of you, again increasing his anxiety. You may have created more problems.
Punishment just doesn’t work! Don’t put your dog in a crate in anger. Crating is not a solution to a dog unfamiliar with it. The dog may continue to defecate, urinate, howl and injure itself trying to get out of the crate.
The Treatment Of Separation Anxiety
The treatment of Separation Anxiety depends on its severity. A mild case can be more easily fixed.
Getting another dog doesn’t always help. The separation anxiety is because the dog misses you (the pack leader) so this doesn’t work. The dog just wants you.
Exercise your dog before you leave home. Take the dog for a long walk (35 to 45 minutes) prior to you’re leaving the house. Be sure he eliminates before bringing him into the house. Expending some of their energy through exercise may help your dog to relax when you go out the door.
Reinforce the basic commands in short 5 to 10 minute practice sessions. Give plenty of praise and treats. Boost your dog’s spirit without getting your dog overly excited.
The other reason for training is to use the sit and stay commands to stop the dog from following you from room to room. You want to be able to move out of the dogs sight and gradually increase the distance you can go without causing your dog to stress out.
Stop the high energy announcements that you’re leaving. Practice leaving calmly.
Stop high energy greeting when you come home. Practice coming in calmly.Walk right past the dog without a word or eye contact.Take your coat off and check the mail before greeting your dog.
Promise,no more high pitched greetings when coming in or leaving.
Leave the TV or the radio on. For some dogs this may be comforting. It probably will not be helpful to some dogs. You should play the radio and TV when you are home to see which one your dog may respond to.
Leave your dog with its favorite toys. If your dog has a favorite toy or toys that keep his attention leave them out for him to play to pass the time.
Kong toys filled with treats will keep him busy even after the treat is gone. They work well for dogs that like to chew and are becoming more and more popular.
Provide other toys that dispense and hide treats and make your dog do some work to find them.There are several puzzle-like toys that try to stretch your dogs intelligence and keep his attention. Many of them require the dog to think and do a little work in order to receive a treat.
Provide interactive toys such as ones that talk and dispense treats. You can record a message on some like the Talk To Me Treat Ball.
Play a relaxation CD created for dogs. Listen to CD’s with your dog at first to see which ones he responds to best. Try a variety of CDs and see which ones have the best effect. You can always rotate them if there are several he/she likes.
Classical music has been found to be effective in calming some dogs. The beats should be slow and at a low tempo. I received a CD of classical Celtic music from an artist. My dog had no anxiety problems but my niece’s dog did. We tried it and after playing the tape two or three times it finally was able to calm her dog. That’s not all she did. In the beginning she came home for lunch to break up the time she was away. She also gave him games where he had to find treats, some were harder to find than others and she left him with one of her old sweatshirts. It took about three weeks until he was fine for a full day at work.
Watch a dog video with your dog the first time to see how he responds to it. You may need to try several tapes.
Put the one your dog responds to best in the DVD Player just before you leave the house.
Leave your pet with something that belongs to you and has your scent on it. It can be an old shirt or pj’s. Some dogs find this very comforting.
If your dog was crate trained as a puppy placing him in the crate to avoid the destruction of your property may be a good idea. We used a crate with all of our many dogs until they were housebroken. Once housebroken they were free to roam the house. It was a place of safety and comfort. They slept and ate there. For a dog that has already experienced this returning the dog to the crate may actually be calming and comforting.
Treating separation anxiety is a systemic process that enables your dog to tolerate being alone without anxiety.
Desensitization Techniques include repetitions of a series of comings and goings that teach your dog to remain calm during the sessions.
Treatment is gradual and may even be a long term process (3 to 6 months or more). The amount of repetitions varies with the severity of the separation anxiety.
The first day start by doing what you would normally do to get ready to leave home. Pick up your keys and anything else your normally take with you. Then sit back down.
Do the same thing except go to the door and open it, then come back and sit down.
Step out and leave the door open than come back in and sit down. Repeat this several times.
How long it takes depends on the severity of the problem. Practice at first, leaving for only a short period of time.
Put on your work coat and keys and go out the door the way in which you would normally leave. Close the door. Go out for about one minute and come back in. If your dog becomes overly stressed before the minute is up come calmly back in. Do not make eye contact or speak to the dog until it is totally calm.
Practice leaving and gradually increase the time you stay out depending on your dog’s response. Keep trying until your leaving does not cause your pet stress. Remember it may take some time, so be patient. You may have to take a few steps back now and then. Hopefully with time you will get results.
Practice your normal departure activities extending the time you stay away until your dog tolerates you’re leaving for a full day of work.
If you feel strongly that you are not seeing any improvement you could contact a dog behaviorist. A behaviorist may be the answer when dealing with severe separation anxiety and may be able to suggest other behavior modification techniques. Together you can make a plan of action to relieve your dog’s anxiety.
You can try herbal remedies. The last resort may be medication.
Because the treatments take some time and because of the destruction a dog with separation anxiety can do drug therapy may be a short term answer. An anti-anxiety drug will reduce your dog’s anxiety but will not sedate him. Discuss this option with your Veterinarian.
Other options may be to hire a dog sitter, send your dog to doggie day care, hire a dog walker, have a friend or family member who will care for your dog. You can even take your dog to work if that’s possible.
Lots of dogs are being taken to the shelter because their owners no longer want to deal with the problem. It is one of the top three reasons dogs are given up. It does take time there is no overnight fix. Some say your dog will never be cured.
Patience, time, love, understanding and the right techniques are the answers to resolving or significantly decreasing your dog’s separation