How to Treat Separation Anxiety
in Dogs and Puppies
Among several behavior problems affecting canines, separation anxiety in dogs is one of the most upsetting and problematic. It's a relatively common condition that affects many puppies and dogs when left home alone.
Most dogs can adjust fairly well to being alone for a reasonable period of time. Some, however, can't. When left home alone even for a short period of time, they resort to destructive behaviors.
Howling, barking, chewing, pacing and trying to escape from the home are a few symptoms suggesting Rover has some issues with being left alone.
Over dependency in dogs may cause feelings of distress and panic, and is one of the most common causes of separation anxiety.
Fortunately, there are several ways to treat separation anxiety in dogs and puppies.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs and Puppies
Separation anxiety can affect any dog, but the most commonly affected are dogs prone to developing a dysfunctional attachment to their owner. Rescue dogs, dogs with a history of abuse and neglect, senior dogs, puppies from pet stores and puppy mills and dogs owned by overly indulgent owners are a few examples of the most common victims of this behavior disorder.
A dog suffering from separation anxiety typically displays panic and distress following the owner's departure. Such mental anguish can be accompanied by house soiling, distress barking, barrier frustration and other destructive behaviors.
You need to realize that these behaviors are not carried out in anger or spite for being left alone. Rather, affected dogs are simply displaying frantic behaviors reflecting their feelings of anxiety and distress.
Preventing Dog Separation Anxiety
The easiest way to cure separation anxiety in dogs is to prevent it from developing in the first place.
The most important action to take while your puppy is still young is to teach him that it's OK to be alone for short periods of time. You don't need to do anything extreme. At first, leave your puppy alone for anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, several times per day. As your puppy gets used to being alone, gradually increase the intervals to half an hour to an hour.
This gradual training is less stressful on your puppy than if you just left him alone for several hours. And the younger your puppy is, the easier this training will be.
Another action you can take to prevent separation anxiety is to cut down on excessive affection. Your puppy will do anything to get your attention, but by giving in to his demands, you are teaching him that his blackmail (and that's what it is!) works.
What Owners Can do to Reduce Separation Anxiety
Upon preparing to leave the home, most dog owners will unknowingly engage in a variety of behaviors which dogs readily recognize.
When you tie your shoes, put on your jacket or grab the keys, very likely your canine companion will start pacing and acting anxious. This happens because your dog has learned over time that those cues mean you are about to leave, causing increased nervousness and anxiety.
Part of the treatment for separation anxiety in dogs would require randomizing these cues so they become unpredictable. For example, you could put on your coat and grab the keys and then just sit down to watch your favorite television show, open and shut doors without actually leaving or leaving for just a few brief seconds, and turning on the car only to come back inside.
When you really have to leave the house, you would instead avoid all pre-departure cues by simply leaving your coat in the car and the keys in the ignition. Confused by these mixed-up cues no longer predicting your departure, your dog should generate a reduced anxious response.
Mistakes Known for Exacerbating the Problem
One common mistake dog owners unknowingly make is to make a big deal out of departures. Petting the dog to say goodbye and talking to him in an attempt to make him feel better will only exacerbate the problem. Returning back inside to calm the barking dog down is another big no-no.
Same goes with returns; it is astounding the number of dog owners who throw a party with their dogs when they come home. Low-key departures and low-key arrivals are helpful as they will likely generate less excitement, and ultimately, help the dog feel more at ease.
Another mistake significantly contributing to separation anxiety in dogs is lavishing and giving too much attention to the dog. Constantly petting the dog, allowing him to follow from one room to another and generally giving too much attention may yield a super-needy dog unable to tolerate even brief separations from its owner. This makes the perfect recipe for a "Velcro-dog", a canine companion constantly glued to the leg of the owner.
Management of Canine Separation Anxiety
The saying "a tired dog is a good dog" also applies to dog and puppy separation anxiety. Taking your dog for a walk in the morning before going to work may help decrease the levels of your dog's anxiety. Dropping the dog off to Doggie Day Care or hiring a pet sitter may also work wonders for dogs seeking comfort and companionship during the day.
Several dog owners find that leaving some "white noise" on while they are away may help relieve separation anxiety in dogs. For instance, leaving a radio or a television on may help some dogs, however, they should be used only if they help the dog reach a relaxed state. If the acts of putting on the music, radio or television also turn into cues suggesting your departure, they will only make your dog's anxiety worse. It may help to occasionally play these noises when you are at home.
Solutions for Severe Cases of Dog Separation Anxiety
There are over-the-counter products that can help reduce separation anxiety in most dogs. For example, Comfort Zone For Dogs is a plug-in diffuser that releases a calming pheromone.
It helps comfort dogs in stressful situations such as being alone, having visitors, adjusting to a new family member, and visits to the vet. It also reduces stress-related behavior, including barking, chewing, and urination.
Some severe cases of canine separation anxiety may require a much more intense behavior modification program, preferably under the guidance of a professional.
In some cases, medications may need to be used in conjunction with a behavior modification program for better success.
The use of anti-anxiety medications may help take the edge off of separation anxiety in dogs without causing sedation. These medications are to be used only as a temporary measure for the purpose of improving the initial response to a behavior modification program.
Here is a brief video that talks about some of the things we just covered in this article...
Dealing with separation anxiety in dogs and puppies requires lots of patience, consistency and time.
Never punish, yell or scold your dog for any behaviors linked to dog or puppy separation anxiety; doing so will only aggravate the problem and make it much more difficult to treat. Rather, dog owners should try to foster some independence and instill greater confidence in their four-legged friends; this will help reduce the chances of separation anxiety in dogs considerably.
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Want to learn more?
Another good resource is the Secrets to Dog Training guide. In addition to thorough discussion of dog separation anxiety, it covers every behavioral problem you can imagine in a dog.
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