Helping your dog’s separation anxiety

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does your dog have separation anxiety?

Sue was happy to be back at work after a long hiatus. During her time off, she adopted a sweet Labrador puppy who filled her days with laughter and love. She missed him while she was at work but knew the moment she walked in the door, Moby would be right there, exploding with joy that she was home.

But all thoughts of a leisurely evening walk with her pup dissipated when Sue pulled into her driveway one night soon after her return to work. The front drapes were torn and askew. Fearing a break-in, she called 911, worried sick that harm may have come to Moby.

“I miss you”

Policemen arrived and assured Sue her home was void of any signs of criminal activity. What they did find was a guilty looking Moby who had not only destroyed the drapes, but had expelled the chewed bits all over the freshly cleaned carpets. Sue thought back over the last few weeks. She’d noticed that when she was home, Moby was relaxed and happy. But when she was preparing to leave for work, he would start pacing and seem depressed. She would try to calm him with extra treats and petting, but it never helped. Sue thought about the neighbor who politely mentioned he could hear Moby barking for hours after Sue left for work. She reflected on the toppled garbage cans, the easy chair sporting a chewed corner, the destroyed laundry basket and trail of torn clothes. Incidents she had put down as normal puppy mischief were rapidly proving that Moby was not just being a naughty boy.

Sue took Moby to the veterinarian, who told her the pup had separation anxiety. He suggested she hire a dog walker or sitter, adding that dogs should not be left alone for more than six hours without a break because retaining urine for long periods on a regular basis can lead to bladder infections. The veterinarian also pointed out that Labradors are very active. Hiring someone to take Moby out would not only give him a chance to release some energy and soothe his frustration at being cooped up, but would also help develop his socialization skills.

Why do dogs get separation anxiety?

As sociable pack animals, dogs are most content when someone is at home every hour of every day. Of course, this usually isn’t possible. Jobs, family, friends, vacations and other activities and obligations mean we have to be away, sometimes for long periods. Unless dogs are taught to live comfortably within our daily routines, separation anxiety is often the result.

Identifying separation anxiety is fairly easy. There are several signature signs and patterns, including:

• incessant barking

• destructive behavior

• refusal to eat

• depression

• misdirected anger

Some dogs will defy all house training and relieve themselves indoors. Many will often become upset even before their people leave the house.

Keeping the peace

Helping a dog overcome separation anxiety means employing simple yet effective methods commonly used by canine behaviorists and trainers. When practiced correctly and diligently, these techniques will minimize or even eliminate the dog’s anxiety.

1. Alter your behavior when leaving the house. The more you coddle and fuss over your dog before leaving, the more insecure he’ll become, especially if he’s already acting upset. His anxiety will heighten when you actually depart, and that’s when the destruction, barking and other unwanted behaviors commence. Instead of comforting your dog, disengage from him for least 15 minutes. No matter how hard it might be, you need to forgo the goodbye pats and kisses and walk out the door as if he isn’t even there.

2. The same rule applies when you come home. Instead of participating in your dog’s excitement, walk past him, ignoring his pleas for attention. If you find a mess, ignore that too. Only after he has calmed down should you offer him a greeting and affection.

3. Make sure you give your dog something to do when he’s alone. He might have toys and balls, but they won’t hold his attention for very long. Spread peanut butter inside a hollow toy. This gives him the opportunity to focus on something fun and yummy instead of your absence.

4. If you’re going to be away for more than six hours, have a trusted friend, family member or neighbor drop in to take your dog out for a bathroom break, some exercise and quality time. Or hire a bonded professional pet sitter or dog walker to come in and look after him at regular intervals. This way as well, if there is ever a health issue with your dog, or a problem in the house, there’s someone there to help and to contact you.

Within two weeks of putting these suggestions to work, Sue noticed a marked improvement in Moby’s demeanour. No longer did she hear from her neighbor about barking. No longer did she come home to overturned garbage cans and chewed furniture. Instead, she found a happy, calm dog with bright eyes and a grin she knew was saying “thank you”.

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