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Curing Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is diagnosed in around 15% of behavioural cases. When left alone, most dogs find a familiar spot and go to sleep. However, a dog when suffering from separation anxiety will become extremely anxious.

Not understanding where you or your family has gone or if you will ever return, the dog exhibits behaviour which may include chewing, barking, salivating, urinating, defecating, vomiting or escape behaviour, such as chewing through walls, scratching through doors, breaking out of cages or trying to dig their way out. In some cases, the dog can become ill, stop eating, or suffer from depression.

Possible Causes

Factors at the core of this problem include, genetics, early learning, lack of socialisation and owner behaviour. Your dog is a social, pack animal that relies on the others for individual protection by safety in numbers. Dogs that lack confidence, due to over bonding, under socialisation, lack of communication and training or no knowledge of what is expected of them, mistreatment in the past, long confinement or even dogs that have been abandoned are more likely to exhibit behaviours relating to separation anxiety.

Solution and Treatment

No long goodbyes: When it is time to leave, just leave. Do not say a big and drawn out "Good bye" to your dog. In fact, ignore your dog for five minutes before you go. Paying too much attention will make your dog feel more insecure when that attention is abruptly withdrawn. I also recommend you buy Dr Bach’s rescue remedy you can get this in any good chemist 4 drops a day in his food, and a DAP diffuser you can get this from your Vets. It plugs in the wall socket and gives out calming pheromones. DAP means Dog Appeasing Pheromone. These combined should help to take the edge of the anxiety.

Distractions are the key: Prepare a "Bye-Bye" bone. Purchase a sterilized; hollow bone from the pet shop or a Kong. Fill it with grated cheese, peanut butter, or other things your dog really likes. Put it away and only take it out when you leave each day. Place it near your dog just before you close the door. When you arrive home put the bone away. The bone only comes out when you leave. When it gets low then poke out the contents and refill. You are distracting your dog with something that he will find interesting enough to concentrate on and will ignore your leaving, he should appreciate the bone so much that he will look forward to it coming out instead of getting upset with your leaving.

Crate Train: Confining your dog during your times of absence has two positive results. First, a dog who is confined crate cannot do damage to your home. Secondly, a crate, when properly introduced, will act as a safe and comfortable den where the dog can relax. Limiting his movement also acts as an anxiety reducer for most dogs.

Exercise Your Dog: A dog that is lacking exercise is more likely to have stress and tension. Tiring a dog out with a long walk, run or with play goes a long way in reducing stress.

Leave the Radio On: Tune a radio to a talk station; not music, put it on in a room you are often in but not in the same room as the dog, and close the door. The dog will hear the human voices from your room and may not feel so alone. Some clients tape record their own voices and play the recording rather than the radio program. Dogs know the sound of your voice. And remember, since the dog is most anxious just after you leave, therefore it need only be an hour long.

Build up a routine: The hardest time for dogs is immediately after you leave. Their anxious, frantic, and occasionally destructive behaviour generally happens inside the first hour. You need to modify your dog's behaviour through reinforcement training and behaviour modification. Leave your dog out of his crate, get ready to leave, walk the like normal just leave. Come back after 2 minutes. Greet your dog calmly. Tell him to sit. When he does, reinforce this behaviour with a food treat he enjoys. Wait a few minutes and then repeat the exercise, this time remaining outside a few minutes longer. Continue practicing leaving and returning over the next couple of weeks, when you return, greet your dog after he has settled down then ask him to sit before offering a cuddle or a treat.

Leadership is Vital: When a dog has a strong leader, it has a calming effect on him. He feels safe and taken care of. In the absence of a strong leader, your dog feels obligated to assume that position in the social hierarchy of the family pack. Since a leader must control all that goes on, his inability to control your leaving causes him stress and anxiety.  They sometimes exhibit dominant behaviour to try to stop owners from leaving. Obedience training and Alpha Bonding techniques and the Leadership Checklist is normally the best methods of establishing yourself as a strong leader.

Follow the Guidelines in my information sheet re the need for Leadership and the Leadership Checklist. Dogs NEED leaders. They operate on a "pack" system: there are leaders and there are followers. If this system does not exist in a household, often the dog will slip into the leader spot. In their mind, SOMEBODY needs to be the leader. Although many dogs would rather not have that spot, they will still end up there. To dogs, leaders have certain roles, privileges and honours. Leaders are responsible for pack safety. Leaders are responsible for providing food and shelter. Leaders have the best and highest sleeping spots. Leaders decide when the rest of the pack eats, sleeps, eliminates, and plays. Therefore it is logical to assume that you going out will cause the dog stress as he/she believes that they should be protecting you at all times, therefore leadership can also be a cause of separation anxiety though it must be said other factors may also play their part.

Stan Rawlinson ( Doglistener) is a full time Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer who has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with Gundogs then moving on to the behavioural and obedience side of Pet Dogs. He now has a successful practice covering London, Surrey and Middlesex. Web Site at