Tips for Overcoming Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a common ailment among dogs which can manifest as destruction, howling, and general mischief whenever a dog’s owner leaves the house. A number of factors dictate which dogs suffer from separation anxiety, including previous abandonment, a change in routine, or a change in residence. With patience and a positive attitude, a number of strategies can be used to help your dog overcome his anxiety.
First, rule out underlying health or behavioral issues. If your dog urinates or defecates while you are away, this may be a sign of separation anxiety but could also indicate a medical issue that is causing incontinence. If the problem has only recently arisen, see a veterinarian first before assuming your dog is anxious. Also consider the breed of your dog and his exercise requirements. For instance, bored Siberian Huskies can become extremely destructive when left alone, since most owners are unable to meet the extreme activity demands of this breed. Before coming to the conclusion that separation anxiety is to blame, consider whether your dog is simply using your absence as an outlet to release pent up energy.
Condition your dog to enjoy your absence. For mild cases of separation anxiety, help your dog associate your absence with positive experiences instead of negative ones. Redirect his anxiety to something he enjoys, and something that will distract him for an extended period of time. For example, fill a Kong with peanut butter or cheese and give the toy to your dog whenever you leave. Instead of associating your departure with feelings of loneliness, he will begin to associate being alone with being given a tasty treat. If you leave for work in the morning you can even feed your dog his breakfast in this manner.
Work on one step of the departure process at a time. For moderate cases of separation anxiety, simply distracting your dog when you leave may not help. Instead, focus on individual steps of the process. Does your dog become anxious the moment you grab your keys? Go through the motions as if you were about to leave the house, but instead stay and watch tv. Give your dog plenty of positive praise, and practice the “pre-departure” often. When your dog becomes more comfortable with these signals, the next step is to walk out the door, but return only a few moments later. These techniques will help condition your dog into understanding that you are coming back. Always be sure to reward your dog for good behavior.
Seek help for severe cases. A dog trainer which specializes in separation anxiety or an animal behavior specialist is necessary for helping treat cases of severe separation anxiety. The trainer will assess your dog and develop an individualized desensitization program. If training is not in your budget, contact the organization from where you acquired your dog, or the breeder, and find out if any special funds or discounts are available to assist in this situation.