Separation Anxiety

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If you have to leave your dog on their own it can bring on separation anxiety, this is usually caused by over-dependence on an owner. It can be the result of being weaned too early, being abandoned or simply due to the temperament of the dog.

You leave your dog alone for just twenty minutes while you run to do some shopping and when you return they’ve emptied the rubbish onto the kitchen floor, destroyed a pillow or had a pee in your hallway. If this sort of behaviour happens frequently your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety.

Over-dependence

Separation anxiety is common in dogs and is usually caused by over-dependence on an owner. It is a difficult but not impossible condition to treat. With patience you can overcome the destructive behaviour associated with separation anxiety completely.

What to look out for

The types of behaviour commonly associated with the problem are urinating and/or defecating in inappropriate places, destructive chewing and pawing, excessive barking or whining, a refusal to eat or drink, self-chewing or self-licking.

When you return home there is usually a prolonged, over-enthusiastic greeting too.

Punishment isn't the answer

Punishing your dog is the last thing you should do in this situation. They won't be able to associate the mess made while you were out with the punishment  received a few hours later. Your dog may appear to act guilty but this is simply submissive behaviour - dogs don't feel guilt but they can anticipate a punishment.

Looking down, tucking their tail between their legs, slinking, showing their belly, these are all ways your dog shows submission, not guilt. Basically, they’re saying "Hey, I know you're the boss. Don't beat me up." Punishment only treats the symptoms of separation anxiety and not the root cause.

Come and go

The best way to deal with the problem is to decrease the dependence and anxiety your dog is feeling. This can be done simply by getting your dog used to people coming and going in the house.

When you leave, don't make a fuss or a big deal of saying goodbye as this will only increase anxiety. Similarly, when you return, give a calm greeting only after they have calmed down.

You could even try some 'practice' entrances and exits from the house to get your dog used to your movements. Do this several times a day and go through the whole routine as if you're actually going to leave.

Jingle your keys, pick up your bag or briefcase, put on your jacket and head out of the door. You could even hop in the car and drive around the block. After a minute or two, return.

As your dog gets used to these short outings, gradually increase their duration. Your goal is to be able to leave the house and return again without your dog working themselves into a frenzy or misbehaving when you're gone.

Once you can leave them alone for an hour or so you should be fairly confident about leaving your dog for an entire morning or afternoon.

Just ignore him!

If you continue to have trouble with your dog, you may need to tackle the dependency directly. This is tough, because it calls for ignoring your dog for a week or two.

Ask someone else to feed, walk and play with them, or better still, get a few people to do so. It won't be easy to ignore your dog, especially when they are desperately looking for your attention, but after a few weeks you'll find they are much less clingy.

As always, if you're having difficulty with your dog you should consult a vet who will be able to determine if your dog's misbehaviour is caused by separation anxiety or some underlying medical condition.

They may also be able to recommend a good behaviour specialist to help resolve the problem.

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