Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavioral problems in dogs, and one of the main reasons why dogs are surrendered to animal shelters. Separation anxiety is the fear or dislike of being isolated. Some of the signs that your dog may have separation anxiety include: destructive behavior, excessive barking or whining, overly dependent or attached to their owner, inappropriate urination or defecation, depression or hyperactivity. Many of these signs could signal other behavioral or health related concerns; therefore, an owner must determine if the behavior is associated with the owner leaving the dog alone.
·Test to determine if the behavior(s) is separation anxiety. Step outside your front door as if you were going to leave. Remain on the other side of the door out of sight. A dog with separation anxiety will show signs of stress within 20-30 minutes of the owner walking out the door. If when you go back into your home and your dog exhibited any of the above signs, your dog has separation anxiety.
·Addressing the symptoms. Crate training, obedience classes, and punishment only address the symptoms, and may serve to make the situation worse. In order to correct the behavior, the owner must change the behavior (fear of being alone) in order to eliminate the symptoms.
·Planned departures; start small. While your dog is watching step outside the front door out of sight for a minute and then come back into the room. Conduct this drill several times a day at varying times. This is the standard pattern. As your dog gets used to you being gone for a certain length of time, begin to increase the time that you are on the other side of the door. If your dog begins to show signs of anxiety again, back off on the time until he becomes comfortable with it, then begin to increase the length of time again. Remember to go slowly. This is a marathon not a sprint.
·Physically leave the premises for short lengths of time. Once your dog is accustomed to you being out of visual contact for short periods of time, begin to leave the property for short periods. Take those items you would take with you when you leave for extended periods. As you exit do not make a big deal of leaving. Get in your car and drive away, even if it is just down the street. Upon your return do not create a scene with your dog as you walk in the door. Do not reward his attention-getting behavior, instead ignore your dog until he calms down; then greet him. If the dog showed signs of anxiety while you were gone or upon your arrival home, back off on the time you were off the premises, and begin to build up the time again.
·Safety cues. Your dog may need to be distracted or reassured with particular stimulus associated with your leaving. Try leaving the radio or television on while you are out, give him a special toy that is reserved for the time you are gone, give him a toy that has a treat in it to keep him preoccupied, or put a piece of your clothing that smells like you in his bed.
·Additional options. Exercise your dog prior to leaving to the point of tiring him out, change your morning routine to keep your dog guessing, and/or teach your dog the sit/stay command so that he gets used to you not being with him all the time in the house.
·Temporary fixes. You may put your dog in doggie day care, leave your dog with a friend or relative, take your dog to work with you, or as a last option anti-anxiety medication. Remember these are only temporary and do not change the behavior; they merely create a quick fix.
·1.5 hours! . Once you are able to leave your dog alone for 1.5 hours without any signs of anxiety, in most instances you will be able to leave your dog alone all day.
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