Sept. 29, 2006 — -- What is separation anxiety?Separation anxiety happens when a dog becomes stressed each and every time he or she is left alone. Typically the dog paces, whines, chews or scratches door and window sills, makes housebreaking mistakes, barks and generally gets stressed out. It doesn't matter if you're gone for five minutes or five hours, your dog stresses the moment you leave.
What is not separation anxiety?
When a dog gets into things from time to time or does things he enjoys doing like unstuffing a couch or raiding the trash. These are often either rewarding behaviors he's learned to do out of your sight or boredom-based behaviors. Incomplete housebreaking where your dog makes mistakes when you're home and when you're not. When problems don't happen all the time and happen most when his schedule is changed in some way such as you come home then go out again, it is probably not true separation anxiety.
Grounding Dogs with separation anxiety need your help, and the first thing to do is to start having your dog do things respond to commands for everything he gets -- food, attention, treats, play and walks all happen after he listens and responds to a command such as sit. This will calm him and help reassure him that you are leading the team. For complete guidelines click here.
Space Separation anxiety (SA) dogs are often "owner addicts." They want to be leaning, touching, sitting on, gazing up at or sitting their owners every moment. This needs to change. Get a dog bed. It doesn't have to be fancy -- a folded blanket will do -- and give him all his petting and attention there. Treats are given there. Meals are given there. Make this the best seat in the house. Do not call him off of the bed to come to you, and leave him be when he is on it. This may be hard for you at first but things have to change, right?
Teach Get the interaction you crave through training. Take a class, pick up a dog sport and find new ways to spend time with your dog -- ways that don't involve you attending to his needy side. If you want him more confident, you need to build his confidence through daily, fun training sessions. Developing shared communication between the two of you is a gift only you can give your dog.
Confinement Many dogs can learn to be contentedly crated, as long as you take the time to make the crate a pleasant spot. Crating an anxious dog can prevent mishaps and calm him. If he is clean in his crate, the crate can be as large as you want.
Start slowly. Introduce crating with treats -- feed him in the crate and then crate for short periods when you are home. If you only crate when you leave, that can create crate stress.
Physical Long walks, solo fetch games up slight hills and swimming are all good ways to give yoru dog a work out. Playing wrestle-mania with a friend's dog works some dogs up, leaving them more excited and active. How do you know when you've found the right routine? When your dog is calmer after the session than before.
Mental Mental exercise is just as important than physical, if not more. Games that build his self-control, focus and patience are key to him getting better when alone. Our new book, "My Smart Puppy," out next month, details many games you can play to build success and use that busy brain to its fullest.
Our advice? Leave and greet your dog the way you leave and greet your parents or spous -- calm and matter of fact is perfect. Avoid long, drawn out, emotional partings because those only make matters worse for your dog. A good rule? Act the way you want your dog to act, he'll follow your lead.
At the other end of the spectrum, skip yelling. As frustrating as this problem is, if you yell at your dog when you come home you'll increase his stress about your coming home, making the anxiety more intense. Prevention is key, not punishment.
Lastly, keep your routine the same seven days a week. If you give your dog 100 percent attention on Sunday, expect an increase in separation issues on Monday. Do him a favor and make his life predictable.
Most dogs with separation anxiety can be helped. Our motto? Your dog can change, but you have to change first. Een though it's the dog's problem, only you can teach him a new way.
Have questions? Speak to your veterinarian. Vets are a wonderful resource for medication, behavior protocols and local dog training advice, which might help you and your dog get past this problem. Also, we invite you to stop by our free message boards at www.mysmartpuppy.com, where a team of friendly professionals can give you customized coaching.
For more information, visit thepetdocs.com.