Monthly Archives: April 2012

“Don’t Leave Me!!!” A Plan for Preventing and Treating Separation Anxiety

Summer time is coming, and that means more outdoor time for you and your dog! It also means lot’s of family activities that your dog may not get to attend. Which means more time alone in the house or yard. Some dogs don’t mind this R & R time, while others get nervous about being separated from their pack. Destruction and barking can be a troublesome side effect.

Remember dogs don’t have a lot of natural hobbies, digging, chewing and alert barking is their way of stress relief.  They don’t do naughty things to punish you or “let you know their upset” as is commonly thought.  They just can’t think of another way to relieve all this pent up nervous energy. Remember dogs are pack animals, they don’t understand why we have to separate they wouldn’t do this under natural circumstances.  Here are some good ways to work on preparing your dog for your separation.

A behavior modification plan:

  • Give your dog a minimum of 30 minutes to 1 hour of aerobic exercise each day. If possible I like to do this before you leave. Remember a tired dog is a good dog!
  • Work on basic obedience commands (come, sit, sit-stay, down, down-stay) for 15 or 20 minutes each day. Use rewards for compliance (praise, a quick pat on the chest, a food treat) rather than reprimands or punishment for lack of compliance. If you need help getting consistent obedience from your dog, work with a professional trainer (like me!).
  • Wean your “Velcro dog” from being attached to you at all times when you’re home. Use a baby gate to barricade her in a separate room for part of the time when you’re home.
  • Provide her with a delicious distraction, such as a Kong (click here to get great recipes and game ideas) toy stuffed with a food treat (peanut butter is a popular Kong stuffer) while she’s by herself. You can also use a “down-stay” or “get in your bed” command to put some distance between you. Also creating a doggie scavenger hunt hiding food-based chewies and things in her area is very helpful.
  • Ignore her for 20 minutes before you leave and 20 minutes after you return. Effusive goodbyes and hellos make a dog with separation anxiety feel worse.
  • When you leave her alone, don’t give her the run of the house or apartment. Instead, use a baby gate to confine her to one room, such as the bedroom, bathroom, or kitchen—wherever she’s least likely to do damage or disturb the neighbors. Leave a radio or TV on very low to provide distracting background noise.
  • Do not leave a dog with separation anxiety in a closed crate unless he/ she is comforted by being in her den. Many dogs with separation anxiety have panic attacks when crated and will injure their mouths or front feet trying to bite or claw their way out of the crate. Test run this before you leave for hours. If the crate is very wet when you return (excessive salivation) this is signs of a panic attack.
  • Don’t use an anti-bark collar. It’s unlikely to work on a dog with separation anxiety.
  • Start a program of desensitization or “flooding.” Flooding for separation anxiety would involve setting aside several hours on a weekend during which you enter and leave your apartment so often that you essentially wear the dog out. Leave the apartment every few minutes, on a varying schedule, for a minute or two at a time then come back. Be sure not to return while your dog is barking or howling, or else you will be rewarding her for that behaviour. If it’s impossible to walk out the door without having your dog bark, you might have a friend remain in the apartment while you go in and out. Desensitization for a dog with separation anxiety involves giving her your customary cues that you’re leaving—such as picking up your car keys or briefcase, opening the coat closet, putting on your “work shoes,” and so on—without actually leaving.
  • A DAP (Doggie Pheromones) diffuser or collar may help calm an anxious dog.
  • An antidepressant may be helpful for a dog with separation anxiety. Clomicalm (clomipramine) is widely used for that purpose. In severe cases and for occasional use, an anti-anxiety medication can also be given one hour before your departure. No drug can extinguish separation anxiety on its own, however. Desensitization is essential.

Excerpted from Hound Health Handbook © 2004, 2009 by Urbanhound, LLC Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc. New York All Rights Reserved Available wherever books are sold.

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