Dog Separation Anxiety and What You Can Do To Help

Separation Anxiety
Do you have a dog or know of a dog that has a difficult time when his/her owner leaves? This is called dog separation anxiety and is very similar to when a baby or young child suffers from separation anxiety when a parent leaves to go to work.

The dog may show behavior problems when the owner leaves the dog at home alone as a way to show that the dog is upset. The behavior may be seen in rugs, furniture being knocked down or when items of the owner's are being chewed while the owner is gone from home. If this kind of behavior only happens while the owner is gone and never while the owner is at home; what may be happening is dog separation anxiety. Perhaps as much as 15% of the dog population experiences some degree of separation anxiety.

The dog separation anxiety stems from the dog's need to be part of a pack. The dog is actually longing to be with you and doesn't understand why he/she can't be with you at all times. There are a few things that you can do to ease the dog separation anxiety.

A dog can develop separation anxiety even after years of not showing any separation signs at all. Events like an owner suddenly going to work after staying at home for years, or the kids growing up and going off to college are changes that the dog will need to get used to and are all separation related. Some dogs develop separation anxiety when they are new pets because they never learned as puppies about humans who come back to them. Some puppies that were left alone for too long may have separation anxiety about being left alone with future owners. Other dogs never develop the confidence to be left alone. Others are handed from home to home or are traumatized and left in a shelter may fear being left alone.

How to deal with dog separation anxiety:

Step #1 does not show anger at the dog for the behavior once you realize that the behavior is stemming from separation anxiety. If you punish the dog, you will create an even bigger problem.

Step #2 Get your dog used to your departure and return by telling the dog to sit and stay, while you leave the room and return. Do the same commands and leave and go somewhere else in the house. Each time the dog obeys your commands give her/him a treat. If the dog is unable to stand being without you for short distances, make the distance shorter still until she is able to receive praise or a treat from you for obeying. Once compliance is met, increase the distance. Also increase the time that you are absent from the view of the dog until the dog is able to obey and becomes more comfortable with your leavings and returns.

Another way to ease your dog’s anxieties is to examine your routine when you leave the house. Doing the same routine can alert the dog that you are leaving and cues the dog into doing the destructive behavior. Routines like kissing a spouse, getting keys, grabbing a briefcase etc., are all routine clues for the dog that you are leaving. Instead of doing your normal routine change what you do by doing something unusual like turning on a radio, or giving the dog a treat as you go out the door. You can also give the dog a favorite toy that will entertain him/her for a while that you only give to the dog when you go out. A toy that has a food item stuffed into it that takes the dog a long time to get out is perfect for this situation.

When you are sensitive to the needs of your dog instead of punishing bad behavior without discovering the source of the behavior you and your dog will be happier.