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How to Help Your Dog Overcome Separation Anxiety?

By Brandi Barker, MFA, CPDT
Updated: 2010-03-08 1:25 PM 8412 Views    Category: Health and Behavior
 
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What is it?


Separation anxiety is a serious behavioral issue that the dog panics upon the departure and absence of his guardian.


It is extremely sad to see dogs with full-blown separation anxiety as even the mildest departure triggers can cause severe emotional and behavioral responses such as:


1.  Chewing to get out of crate or flipping the crate over


2.  Destroying door jambs or escaping the home


3.  Licking limbs until raw


4.  Wearing down nails in attempts to dig out of home


5.  Excessively panting, pacing or soiling


6.  Jumping through closed windows

 

Many dogs that are labeled to have “separation anxiety” may simply enjoy destroying the house or need some confidence building exercises. This does not imply a dog who exhibits extreme vocalization such as screeching, howling or barking, occasional soiling, destruction, escape attempts, loss of appetite, despondence or over-excitability over your comings and goings does not need help. It is, however, important to understand what causes your dog's negative emotional responses during isolation and his triggers before designing a behavior modification plan.


Crates aren't the culprit but some dogs learn to associate them with their guardian's absence. There is still little research on whether the act of confining actually increases anxiousness. However, for the dog with separation-related issues, the crate is a scary place because he goes there every time his absolute favorite person or people leave so he fights when he's put there or makes a lot of commotion when he's in there. For the short-term, until your dog learns that the crate is a 'happy place', you will need to find a safe, alternate option while you are away.


What Causes It?


Unfortunately, there is still no scientific answer on the actual cause of separation anxiety. There are some dogs that may be more pre-disposed to anxious behavior due to a 'clingy' personality. If your dog is one who followed you around the house from the moment he came into your life, without a lot of elaborate departure cues, there might be a genetic explanation for his behavior. It's important to look at what your dog is actually doing when left alone. If it's only soiling, chewing or barking it may be another behavioral issue. True separation anxiety is rare and you might be able to resolve your dog's issue with some leadership and frustration tolerance exercises.


What Can I Do?


Even if your dog does not have full blown Separation Anxiety, it is very concerning to see our furry friend pace, bark or whine when left alone.  Here are a few ways to make alone time less stressful:


1.      Add an extra walk or some training games before you leave.  A tired dog is less likely to worry about your departure.


2.      Find something AMAZING that you only give your dog when left alone.  Some dogs drool over peanut butter in a Kong, some get it all the time so find it a low valued reward. If your dog is the former, give the peanut butter Kong to your dog right before you leave. The moment you come back inside, it goes away.  It is imperative to use something that your dog goes nuts over , this is the only way to overpower your dog’s need for you.


3.      Plan for some separation time when you are home.  Your dog can go to the crate, another room or a dog bed but purposely make time in the evening to be away from your dog for 15-30 minutes. If this is too much for your dog, contact a local trainer  to help you with a desensitization program. 


 

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With the last name “Barker”, Brandi was destined to work with dogs! A lifelong animal lover; she formally began training dogs in 2001 when she completed her apprenticeship at the Anti-Cruelty Society. In the classroom, she honed her interpretation of canine body language, developed a toolbox of effective behavior modification techniques and fine-tuned her communication skills with dogs and people while only using reward-based techniques. Brandi completed her Master's degree at DePaul University in Developing Behavior Management Practices to Enhance Understanding in Human/Animal Relationships and is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Brandi's unique achievements gave her a solid foundation in animal learning theory, ethology and operant and classical conditioning. She uses this knowledge in conjunction with the active listening, relationship development and creative problem solving skills she acquired from a decade in the corporate world. Brandi is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and her philosophy incorporates attainable goals into every day life with a lot of patience, fairness and fun…for humans and dogs.
 
 http://www.barkerbehavior.com
 
 
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