Dogs and Separation Anxiety: How to cope with your stressed out canine.
One of the most common issues faced by dog owners is that of dogs and separation anxiety. This can range in intensity from a minor annoyance to a serious problem. Dogs have been known to cause serious property damage due to separation anxiety.
There have also been reported incidents of dogs injuring themselves by smashing through glass windows. And then there’s the issue of incessant barking and howling. Many a pet owner has been evicted from their home due to the disturbance caused by their dogs while they’re away.
Dogs and Separation Anxiety: The Causes
Dogs are sociable animals. In the wild, they live in packs and build strong bonds. In domesticated dogs, these bonds are transferred to their ‘human pack’. It is, therefore, no surprise that, when a dog is separated from his pack by being left home alone, he becomes anxious.
The level of this anxiety differs greatly from one dog to another. Some breeds, for example, Huskies, don’t mind being left alone, and may even prefer it. Others, act out in severe ways. Whatever the breed or dog, the actions of the owner have a big impact on how the dog reacts.
Dogs and Separation Anxiety: What to do.
There are a number of ways to deal with the problem of dogs and separation anxiety. Most are easy to do and require just a simple shift in your routine. Here are some ideas for you to try:
Vary Your Routine – Dogs with separation anxiety are very tuned into the routines you go through before leaving the house.
Start to vary your routine slightly. For example, if you normally put on a jacket before leaving, carry it out with you instead. If you normally pick up your car keys from the hall table, keep them in the kitchen, then put them in your pocket before you leave.
Also, go through your normal preparations for leaving the house – then don’t leave. Or go through your normal leaving routine, then stand outside the door for 30 seconds and come back in. All of these variations act as a kind of circuit breaker. The dog is used to building himself up to a state of anxiety based on certain actions. Now he no longer finds the pattern that sets him off.
Don’t make a fuss – When dealing with dogs and separation anxiety, the worst thing you can do is to make a big fuss every time you leave the house or returning home. You are only reinforcing the separation anxiety.
The dog begins to associate the fuss with you leaving the house, and so builds himself up to a state of anxiety. Then, once you leave, he craves for your return so that he can get his reward of more fussing and attention. Is it any wonder he acts out while you’re away?
When you need to leave, do so as quickly as possible without paying attention to the dog. When you return, ignore your dog for 10-15 minutes, or at least until he is in a calm and submissive state. Once he is calm you can lavish as much attention as you want on him. Give praise and attention when he is calm so that he associates the reward with being calm. He’ll soon learn which behavior earns him the attention he craves.
Dogs and Separation Anxiety: The Benefits of Crate Training
Crate training is a must for dogs that are going to be left home alone, and particularly for dogs with separation anxiety. Dogs are by nature territorial. A dog left in an empty house will feel the need to patrol and protect that ‘territory’. He’ll become more and more anxious reacting to every sound.
Once a dog has been crate trained he will regard the crate as his ‘den’. Having to protect this much smaller territory he’ll be a lot calmer.
Dogs and Separation Anxiety – You’re not being mean!
Many people don’t act on separation anxiety because they feel they are being mean to the dog. If this describes you then ask you whether your dog is better off building himself up a frenzy of anxiety every time you leave, or if he is better off waiting calmly for your return.
If your dog has severe anxiety problems it is important to address to it right away. You’ll be amazed at how just a few tweaks to your routine can benefit your dog’s physical and mental well-being. Whatever you decide, it is important to act on dogs and separation anxiety rather than allowing the problem to escalate.
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