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Most dogs are social creatures and love being part of all the family’s fun. However, many dogs bark or howl endlessly when their dog owners go away. This is called separation anxiety. In its most severe case, we have seen dogs become destructive – tearing up furniture, clawing doors and creating holes in dry wall. Some dogs even defecate the minute they see their pet parent leave even though they are housetrained. Dog separation anxiety may occur just when you leave, or even when another person in your household exits.
Separation anxiety is most often caused by a combination of factors including:
· A perceived lack of leadership
· Fear and uncertainty
· Incorrect conditioning by owners
· Basic needs are lacking like food, shelter, and entertainment
· An owner’s death, a family move
As much as you want to show your dog love, it’s important you don’t spoil them. This can lead to inconsistent leadership. If your dog has been allowed to lead by routinely asking for and demanding what he wants, your dog will think he is in control. He will probably object when you leave, because he thinks his job is to protect you. How can he do that when you are out of sight? In reality, it is your job to protect your dog and make him feel safe, not the other way around.
A fearful dog has a number of concerns. He will worry about becoming the leader of the pack (because someone has to) and he may feel threatened by people or noises outside. Most dogs don’t have the personality to be pack leaders, but they feel a responsibility to do so.
A true canine pack leader (the dog owner), however, is free to come and go as he pleases because he is capable enough to assess whether leaving is safe for him and the pack. Therefore, the pack does not worry when he is away.
Treating Separation Anxiety
The training for separation anxiety depends on the severity of the condition. If it is mild, you can try:
· Leaving something with your scent at home in his “den”
· Keep arrivals and departures low key … don’t acknowledge overexcitement
· Keep the TV or a radio on as well as some lights
· Leave some interactive toys for your dog so they are physically and mentally active
· Take your dog to doggy daycare so he can interact with other dogs and not be bored
· A well-exercised dog is a quiet dog. Take him for a walk in the morning before you leave.
· Have a dog walker come to your house in the middle of the day
· Practice short departures, staying away the first time for 5 minutes and then gradually increasing the length of time you are away.
With more moderate to severe cases, you will need a professional dog trainer. As a Bark Busters dog trainer, I will teach you to:
· Demonstrate you are the leader of the pack in a canine way
· Be sure your dog’s basic needs of food, shelter and entertainment are all met including a potential diet change
· Practice separation at home
· Simulate leaving the house
· Reestablish your leadership when returning home
Preventing Separation Anxiety in New Dogs
Getting a new puppy or dog? You can take some preventative measures to reduce the possibility of separation anxiety. If you work outside of the home or know you are going to be gone for many hours in a day, set your new dog up for success by following these tips:
· Make sure someone is home with your dog for the first couple of days you bring him home. Remember this is all new for your dog and he needs to get used to eating, sleeping, and housetraining in his new environment.
· Keep the first couple of days low key. Although you may want to show off your dog to your friends and family, this can be overwhelming for a new dog. Let your dog settle in for a few days before heading out to new places.
· Make sure you have a created a quiet space for your dog where he has his own den such as a crate or a spare bedroom.
· Stay close to your dog, but don’t spoil him too much because he will begin to demand that level of attention.
· Dogs love consistency so set up a routine. Remember that dogs normally sleep 50% of the day, so set a schedule for outside potty training and meal times.
· Start leaving your dog for short times during the day. Start by going to the mailbox and build up to being gone an hour or two. Your dog will hopefully learn that you will be gone at times but will safely return.
Know that separation anxiety is not usually about your dog missing you. If he thinks he is the pack leader, he will be anxious when you are away because there is no way to protect you. Your job is to let him know you will keep yourself and him safe.
If you need help with separation anxiety, call your Bark Busters dog trainer to help you and your dog overcome this distressing behavior.