Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Anxiety disorders come in all shapes and sizes and have many causes. Loud noises, such as thunder or fireworks can cause anxiety, as can crowds, travel or a change of residence. The most common is separation anxiety. It is important to remember that dogs are basically pack animals and have a natural aversion to isolation. They tend to feel apprehensive at being left alone and wonder if their owner will return.
The anxiety or fear can cause even a well-trained, normally obedient, dog to regress into destructive and obnoxious behavior. Some of the ways this can manifest itself are:
â€¢ Eliminating (urination or defecation) in inappropriate places
â€¢ Destructive behavior like chewing or digging
â€¢ Excessive barking, whining or whimpering
â€¢ Depression or hyperactivity
* Remember that this is instinctive behavior, not punishment or revenge. Dogs do not think the same way we do and havenâ€™t the capacity for that type of petty and malicious behavior.
Imagine being â€œtakenâ€ from your mother and everything youâ€™ve known at six weeks old and thrust into a new environment. If that isnâ€™t traumatic enough, then add housebreaking, trips to vets, shots and maybe even kids who carry you by the neck. Puppies are genetically attached to their mother and litter-mates and when they are taken away and placed into a â€œfosterâ€ home (of sorts) they seek out that attachment. Oftentimes, there is one person who does most of the feeding and care and the dog will usually become more attached to that one person. This, in itself, is not unhealthy but if the dog becomes excessively dependent, it can give rise to the unwelcome behaviors listed above. These signs are not exclusive to separation anxiety but if they only occur when the owner is not around (or is leaving), then it is most likely separation anxiety.
Some dogs can sense an impending separation and may become unruly before the owner actually leaves. The dog may simply follow the owner around the house. If your dog gets up from a nap when you get off the couch to go to the kitchen, you are well on your way to a problem with separation anxiety.
There is hope. Simple training and desensitizing techniques can help ease the trauma and distress of most pets.
1. Discourage your pet from following you everywhere you go. He needs to know that it is ok to be apart.
2. Practice leaving for just a couple of minutes and then returning. Reward him if he does not show signs of unacceptable behavior. Do this over and over; increasing the amount of time you are gone very slowly over time.
3. Do not feel guilty for leaving your dog alone; dogs can sense our feelings and your guilt may add to his anxiety.
4. Give your dog an old shirt or two to snuggle with when you are gone. (Wear the shirt for a couple hours beforehand, the dog is not overly-attached to TideÂ®)
5. Resist the â€œhyperâ€ dog approaching on your return. Be aloof when you come home. Donâ€™t make a fuss over him for 5-10 minutes. You should initiate contact with the dog.
6. If the dog is overly attached, make certain â€œhisâ€ area is a bit farther when settling. Do not allow him to sleep with or on you constantly. Praise the dog when he settles away from you on his own but be careful not to give the impression that you are calling him over.
7. When possible, divide responsibilities among other family members so the dog isnâ€™t dependent on one person.
8. Encourage independence by giving the dog interactive toys that he can use on his own (such as Kong toys with treats or hollow bones stuffed with peanut butter or cheese). Maybe â€œhideâ€ the treat/toy so he has to find it while you are gone (donâ€™t make it too hard, if he gives up it defeats the purpose). (Our pet specialist, Renee, suggests freezing the stuffed Kong to make it last longer.) We offer a FREE Kong Recipe Booklet for more ideas!
9. Leave a TV or Radio on when you are away. The point isnâ€™t to fool the dog into thinking you are home but to create a relaxed environment.
10. Do NOT yell or physically punish the vocal dog for whining, barking, whimpering, etc. A dog that craves attention doesnâ€™t care what kind of attention it gets (positive or negative) so long as they get it.
11. Take the cues away! Randomly go through some of the rituals associated with your leaving to disassociate them. Jingle your keys without leaving. Put on cologne or perfume and fix your hair. Go out and come back in.
DAP (Dog Appeasement Pheromone)
This product is a plug-in, scent-releasing device (like Glade plug-ins) that releases a genetically engineered pheromone normally secreted by mother dogs to their pups to relax them and let them know all is well. The pheromone is odorless (to humans) and keeps a dog calm. (Also available in pump spray)
Crate Training is another option but works best if you start early. It is an approved and effective method of house-training and behavior training a dog to understand his role and his place, but this is a subject that requires its own blog entry.
Next week â€“ More on Crate Training
As always, information given here is meant to be helpful and/or educational. It is, in no way, intended to supersede, challenge or supplant the diagnosis, treatment or advice of a licensed veterinarian.
If you like JeffersPetBlog.com, please comment and tell us and tell all your friends. If you have questions, comments or corrections about a subject we cover, use the comments section below. If you would like to see a particular subject covered, leave a comment.
To comment or reply, just click where it says â€œNo Commentsâ€ below. (If comments have been made it will read with the number of comments instead of â€œNo Commentsâ€, ex. â€œ3 Commentsâ€.)