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What to Do If Your Dog Suffers From Separation Anxiety

What to Do If Your Dog Suffers From Separation Anxiety

If leaving your dog at home becomes a struggle because they either destroy the house, have accidents or drive your neighbors crazy by making a lot of noise whining,barking and scratching the door, it is time to tackle the issue. Before moving towards finding a solution you have to first figure out WHY your dog is acting this way. Dogs, like us, are very social animals having evolved alongside us over thousands of years, so dogs should never be left for too long on their own. If they get used to being left for short periods as pups, they are far more likely to grow up feeling relaxed and comfortable when left on their own as adult dogs. There are many different reasons why a dog shows problematic behavior when left alone. Just because a dog destroys your furniture, don’t assume they have separation anxiety. Instead, there may be medical issues, barrier issues, toilet training issues, boredom, or noise/environmental phobias. Image result for separation anxiety dog Is your dog bored or under-exercised? Dogs can simply get bored and destroy a home when left alone, especially young, active dogs with a strong working drive. If you suspect separation anxiety, you should first rule out boredom or lack of exercise and take your dog for a long walk and maybe a game of fetch before leaving the house. See if the result is any different. Also try leaving a treat ball or a toy filled with frozen peanut butter for your pup to tackle that boredom. If nothing changes, we recommend you also to see your vet – even if you don’t think there is a medical cause. Could there be medical reasons? If a dog is unwell, then they may show problematic behavior when left alone. Perhaps as they feel physically worse when they are left alone due to a lack of distraction, or with the owner not being there for them. Does your pup feel restrained? Barrier issues and/or frustration occur when a dog is confined or restricted, and wants to get out to join in with activities they can see or hear outside in the street. Dogs, people, possibly your voice – could be anything. Not being able to get to what they want causes them to become frustrated. It can be mistaken for separation anxiety if it regularly happens when the owner is not at home, but usually also occurs when the owner is home. Incomplete potty training Some owners believe because a dog can hold it for 10 hours at night, they should be able to do this during the day too. This is not only way too long for most dogs, but also very uncomfortable. Imagine how you would feel not using the washroom for 10 hours. And once a dog has toileted in a particular place, they often feel tempted to repeat this. If you work long hours, please hire a dog walker, ask your friends and family or come back in your lunch break. Separation anxiety This is commonly found when pups have had a bad start in life or have developed the wrong bond with their owners. It is common in certain smaller breeds who are bred to be companion animals. Sometimes people simply never teach the dog how to be alone, or a dog’s previous companion dog or owner passes away. Another risk factor is when the pup has been taken away from the mother too young (< 8-9 weeks). These can all trigger separation issues. When the puppy is taken away from their mother and littermates, there is a great disruption in the existing maternal bond, which must be transferred onto the new owner for the puppy to feel safe and secure. It is crucial that the new owner is able to make time to forge a correct bond with the puppy. Does my dog suffer from separation anxiety?  You may have a problem if your dog shows the following symptoms once you are getting ready to leave the house:
  • panting
  • salivating
  • restlessness
  • toileting
  • anxious behaviors like feet chewing.
On your return, you might not only find your house to be a mess but also your dog will be overly excited. How can separation anxiety be prevented? For the first few weeks, keep your new puppy close to you as much as you can. You can attach them with a leash and a carabiner to your belt as you move around the house. This will also help you very much in potty training as you can prevent accidents right when they’re about to happen. Don’t leave puppies alone for long periods but try to enlist friends and family to watch them when you can’t. As they grow older, slowly get them used to being alone by first leaving for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes etc. When you leave the house, make sure your dog is left in a comfortable safe place where he cannot hurt himself, away from windows where noises could scare him. It should somewhere they tend to relax in and not feel socially isolated (e.g. not the utility or spare room). Put a comfortable bed and water in this area, and safe chew items, should your dog need them as well as a treat toy or a frozen, pate filled toy. Some dogs also get calmed by a t-shirt that smells of their owner. What to do if my dog already suffers from separation anxiety? It can be very stressful for an owner if their dog gets anxious every time they leave to work, creating feelings of guilt and helplessness. It takes time to cure separation anxiety but it is possible. You will have to take baby steps: If you notice that your dog begins to look worried when you pick up your keys or put on your shoes before leaving, you can start desensitizing them to these cues: Simply get them used to you picking up your keys, shoes or bag but not going out. Instead, sit down and do something else. Once they are calm with this, you can start actually leaving them for short periods. Maybe you will have to start with 2 minutes. Leave the house, wait close to the door and once they calmed down, return with a treat and increase the intervals slowly. Keep greetings on your return friendly, low-key and predictable but don’t ignore them. Same for goodbyes, you can say them but don’t be dramatic. Punishment If your dog has destroyed or peed in your house on your return, also don’t be dramatic even though it’s frustrating (we know!).  Never punish as it will worsen the situation: Your dog won’t only be anxious about you leaving but also about you returning. Getting your dog a canine companion Do NOT get a second dog only to cure your dog’s separation anxiety. This is usually a bad idea as not only dogs do learn from each other (maybe dog #2 will develop anxiety as well) but also because they might not get along and you should watch them together for a very long time (and remove toys, bones etc.) before leaving them alone together. Other tips Other things that can help are leaving lights or the TV on and playing music can help make the transition easier. There are even relaxing dog music channels on Youtube, take a look here. What if nothing helps? If the anxiety is very bad, we recommend you to look for a POSITIVE trainer/behaviorist. Inflicting any kind of pain or additional fear on your dog and leaving him for a few weeks in some training school will 100% not fix your anxious dog but make things worse. If you can’t afford a trainer, check online training videos. We highly recommend the ones by Zak George:
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