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Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Copyright 2006 Paul Nelson Separation anxiety in dogs is characterized by destructive behavior when the dog is left alone. This behavior can include barking, howling, destroying household items, digging, chewing and sometimes urination. Some dogs will literally go into a panic and dig at a door or a window to try and escape and find their owner. Typically this is set off when the owner goes to leave the dog at home, and can even start when the dog senses or see small signs that the owner is leaving the house. It is common for a dog with separation anxiety will also respond to the owners return with hyperactivity after a period of being left alone. Some dogs will even follow there owner from room to room to make sure they will be not be left alone.
Some owners find using a distraction for there pet while they go out is a good way to releive some anziety, this can include leaving the radio or tv on so the dog can hear humans talking, or leaving them with a toy or a treat ball to give them something else to focus on. With more severe separation anxiety problems it can be helpful to change the leaving routine so that the dog is unaware of your intention to leave. Normally a dog will notice small signs like the owner putting on the shoes or grabbing the keys and in a dog with separation anxiety this can translate into panic. Try making leaving the house unexpected to your dog by putting your shoes outside or leaving without doing your leaving routine. Then after waiting 10 minutes outside return to the house.
This begins to desensitize the dog to the fear of separation. It is good to make sure that leaving the house and arriving is always a calm event, if the owner responds to the dog in an excited way it increases the excitement of the dog. Another strategy to desensitize a dog with separation anziety is to show the dog repeatedly that the leaving routine doesn't need to result in a panic attack. The owner of the dog goes through the familiar leaving routine, grabbing keys, putting on shoes and picking up a bag to leave then sitting down again. After repeating this exercise a number of times, try going one step further and finish the leaving routine by opening the door and standing outside it for a minute but with the door open. These exercises need to be repeated over and over to desensitize the dog. It is important to get a dog with separation anxiety comfortable with even short absenses, daily routines like getting the paper, result in a short absense and this can be used to make the dog feel that leaving will result in the owners return. Once your dog can handle short absences (30 to 90 minutes), he'll usually be able to handle longer intervals alone and you won't have to repeat this process every time you are planning a longer absence. The hard part is at the beginning, but the job gets easier as you go along. Nevertheless, you must go slowly at first.
How long it takes to condition your dog to being alone depends on the severity of his problem.