Very social animals, dogs prefer to be with others. When left alone, some companion canines become
very distressed, suffering from an attachment disorder known as separation anxiety. Dogs who suffer
from separation anxiety just can't learn to cope with being alone, and they express their anxiety by
barking, howling, whining, chewing, soiling, and/or attempting to escape. Usually, you can diagnose
separation anxiety if the dog becomes anxious and worried or severely depressed as you prepare to
leave, and acts as though you've been gone for years when you return!
Separation anxiety is often triggered by a traumatic event or disruption in the dog's lifestyle, such as a
change in the family's work schedule, an adjustment in the family composition, the death of another
pet, a move to a new home, or being boarded or hospitalized for a period of time. Purebreds are
more likely to suffer from separation anxiety than mixed breeds, and adult dogs who have been
re-homed are especially at risk.
Just as jingling your keys tells your dog that you're leaving, you can choose a cue to say you'll be back
When you leave the house for short durations, such as to take out the garbage or get the mail, say "Be
right back!" to your dog. Eventually, he or she will associate this phrase with a short absence. This can
help soothe dogs who don't like to be left alone. Other cues, such as turning on the radio or jingling a
bell, will work too. Just be consistent with the cue and only use it during short absences.
A dog that is destructive while you are away from home might be suffering from separation anxiety.
Dogs who do not have self-confidence, are not comfortable being left alone, or whose daily routines
have changed can develop separation anxiety. The fear of isolation often results in unfavorable
behaviors inside the home while the dog is alone.
A dog treatment program by an animal behaviorist may help curb these undesirable actions. Keeping
arrivals and departures low-key, and leaving your dog with a personal item such as a T-shirt that
smells like you may ease his or her anxiety. If behavioral modifications are not enough, veterinarians
may prescribe medications to help curb the behaviors.
STEP-BY-STEP METHOD TO EASE SEPARATION ANXIETY
The most effective treatment for a dog with separation anxiety is to accustom the dog to very short
periods of time alone. While at the same time, you must pair the experience of being alone with
something wonderful, such as his favorite treats. For this exercise, you'll need some hollow toys into
which you will stuff tasty treats; these are readily available at pet supply stores. Just before you walk
out the door, scatter a selection of toys around the room. Step out the door and wait for no more
than 30 seconds to one minute. Come back in. If your dog is still working on the toys, excellent!
Remove the toys so the dog learns that he only has access to them when he's alone. Repeat several
times each day, gradually increasing the time you are outside the home. Periodically revert back to
shorter times so that the dog is forever hopeful that you'll be right back. Take things slowly! You
should initially increase the time you're away by only seconds, and then work up to minutes. When
you hit 30 minutes, begin to take jumps of five minutes.
When you achieve two hours, take jumps of 15 minutes. When you can be out of the home for four
hours and your dog stays relaxed, you can probably be gone for a full eight-hour day. Continue to
leave food toys that will occupy the dog for at least 20-30 minutes.
You will greatly increase the chances of successful treatment if you make arrangements for your dog
to be with someone whenever you have to be away from home for longer than your dog is prepared
to handle. For instance, take the dog to doggy daycare, hire a sitter to stay with him, or take him with
If your dog isn't interested in the food toys, just ignore him and retrieve the toys. Wait 20 minutes or
so and try again. If your dog won't eat from the toys when he's alone even after you've skipped
feeding him one meal, and you're confident hes hungry and likes the food you've left him then your
dog has a more serious case of separation anxiety and you will need to seek the help of a Certified
Applied Animal Behaviorist, Veterinary Behaviorist, or Certified Professional Dog Trainer.
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