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Separation Anxiety

Friday, January 6, 2012

Many dog owners endure the wrath of separation anxiety in their pets.  This disorder comes with many symptoms and causes and without proper attention to treating it, owners commonly react one of two ways:  1)  Feeling sorry for their pet to the point of excusing the behaviors and 2)  Feeling as if they are at their wits' end which may lead them to comtemplate giving up their furry friend.  Although separation anxiety can be one of the most heartbreaking and frustrating issues one can face when owning a dog, there are many ways to cope and manage it. 

First, you'll need to understand your dog.  Like people, our pets act out when they are stressed.  Along with knowing that separation is stressing them, it always helps to know why.  Dogs are creatures of habit.  Change triggers stress.  Any type of change can do this, whether it's a change of schedule for any or all family members in the home or a change in the dog's.  Another type of change may be a traumatic event in the dog's life.  Shelter rescues commonly exhibit separation anxiety symptoms.  Car accidents or other forms of physical injury may also cause separation anxiety.  Those are just a couple of suggestions to consider.  The next step to managing the disorder is to STOP AND BREATHE.

Many times when we understand why someone or something is suffering, we are afforded the opportunity to control how we react to it.  When a dog is suffering from separation anxiety, know that they are not a "bad dog."  They are simply acting out.  When you come home to find destroyed household items or urine spots, many people react by punishing the dog.  Nobody wants to come home to a mess.  However, any good trainer will tell you that punishing a dog after the fact does nothing but confuse and induce fear in them.  Instead, control the situation the next time by preparing for it.

Dogs react to us.  If we make a big deal out of leaving, THEY think it is a big deal and it increases their stress level.  Don't hug your dog or fuss about him.  In fact, ignore him for the ten minutes prior to your departure.  The act of leaving your home should be calm and quiet.  The same goes for returning!  When you come home, simply go about your business for the first ten minutes.  After that, be the first to initiate contact - don't return a greeting to your dog.  When you do greet your dog, calmly command him to sit/stay and reward him with a simple "good boy" followed by pets.  While I'm on this note, I'll also suggest getting a training class on your schedule.  Learn the dog pack hierarchy mentality and take the Alpha position in your home.  When your dog knows you're the boss, he will feel more secure and calm in his own position.  What to do when you leave and when you return aren't the only things that are important in dealing with stress management.  There's also that in-between part.  You know, the part where your dog is actually home alone.

Many people let their dogs have free roam of the house while they're away.  I, and many others, choose to crate my dog.   A ninety-pound dog banging himself against a door or window simply begs for a serious injury.  Crating your dog while you're away is fine as long as it's not for an extended period throughout the day.  It offers two benefits: 1) You know both your dog and your home will be safe from injury/destruction and 2) It gives your dog a security "den" that makes him feel safe.  When Bruce is in trouble, he goes straight to his crate.

Making an effort to provide your dog with comfort in your absence will help tremendously.  If you choose to crate your dog, make his crate something he can love.  Associate only good things with both your leaving and his crate.  For example, before I leave for work in the morning I prepare Bruce's crate prior to putting him in there.  I make sure he has food and water available along with his glucosamine supplements (which he WILL NOT eat unless it's in his crate).  As soon as I tell him it's time to go in his crate, he knows he also gets his treat - a raw chicken breast or drumstick - as soon as he gets in.  When he heads for his crate, he practically runs into it and excitedly waits for the treat.

In addition to all these suggestions I threw at you, here's one more:  keep your dog and your relationship with him happy and healthy.  Give him plenty of exercise, make sure his diet is good and stimulate his brain and instincts through training.  The more involved you are with your dog, the better you're able to help him cope with if not overcome separation anxiety. 

Oh and one more thing - always seek help if you feel as if nothing you're doing is working.  Don't give up on your pet.  He'd never give up on you.

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