Contrary to popular belief, dogs don’t have a spiteful bone in their body. Although, I can say with love, that dogs can be opportunistic scoundrels!
Fact is, separation anxiety is a genuine problem for many dogs. Depending on which study you read, 14-35% of dogs have this problem. When a dog suffers from separation anxiety she will bark, cry, whine, soil in the house, tear up furniture, clothing and other things, even if separated from the owner for a short time. They do these things because they’re distressed, not because they’re trying to get back at their owner.
Separation anxiety is usually caused by a lack of proper socialisation when the dog is a puppy. This can occur for various reasons including being removed from their dams too early, spending time in an animal shelter, being in an abusive situation or simply not getting out enough and interacting with other dogs and people. The basic cause remains the same: the dog lacks self-confidence and comes to fixate on the owner. When the owner is not present, the dog seems to fall to pieces and acts out.
Prevention is essential
This means providing puppy with good socialisation skills from an early age in order to build self-confidence and help her become well-adjusted. You can do this by taking puppy places where she can safely and calmly meet other dogs on a leash, such as pet supply stores or parks. It is not recommended to take a puppy to a dog park, however, because of the boisterous atmosphere and because many dog parks are not monitored. Your puppy could be intimidated by a larger, older dog, which would not be helpful for building her self-confidence. You can also enrol your puppy in puppy preschool classes or puppy kindergarten. She will be able to play and interact with other puppies in these classes, along with their friendly owners. She will also learn a few basic good manners. All of these early lessons will help build your puppy’s self-confidence which will, in turn, prevent separation anxiety later in life.
Re-train adult dogs
If you already have an adult dog or a dog with separation anxiety, you can start at the beginning and take your dog to quiet places where dogs are welcome, such as a pet supply store or a park. Do the same things to encourage your dog to build her confidence, such as having friendly strangers pet her and give treats. Allow her to meet other friendly dogs that are on leash.
At home you can practice desensitising your dog to the things that cause her separation anxiety. If she becomes anxious when you leave the house, for example, you can practice picking up your keys and going out the door. Then immediately return and do not fuss over your dog. It is important to keep things very low-key. Don’t give your dog hugs or kisses when you leave or return. When you leave the house you should act as calm and matter-of-fact about it as though you are simply walking into another room. Your dog takes many of his emotional cues from you. If you are emotional and worried about leaving, your dog will believe there is something to be worried about. If you are calm and relaxed, you will do much to help relax your dog.
You can continue to desensitise your dog by taking more steps such as going outside to start the car and coming back into the house. Then backing out of the driveway and coming back. You can continue until you are gone for brief periods and then until you are gone for longer periods. Your dog should gradually accept these absences without being anxious, knowing that you will always return. Be sure to always leave your dog with plenty of toys and safe things to chew while you are gone.
The best way to deal with separation anxiety is to seek the help of a specialist in dog behaviour. A plan will need to be worked out that deals with your particular circumstances and this plan will need to be followed closely.
The best way to tackle this issue is to combine training specifically aimed at reducing separation anxiety along with medication (prescribed by your veterinarian).
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