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Separation Anxiety
Does your dog fret when you leave home? Bark incessantly or is destructive? Then it could be suffering from separation anxiety.

What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is triggered when a dog become upset when separated from
its owner. It can display a variety of negative behaviours such as:

  • the dog may be disruptive or destructive
  • the dog might urinate, defecate in the house
  • may bark or howl incessantly
  • may chew and /or dig in an attempt to escape
  • may drool and show anxiety when owners prepare to leave the house

What triggers this behaviour?

  • There are various theories as to why dogs develop separation anxiety:
  • The dog believes it is the ‘pack’ leader and that it is responsible for the welfare of its owner. When the owner leaves without the dog, it is impossible for the dog to be caretaker, which causes the dog stress.
  • The dog may have experienced the loss of an important person, or the company of another pet previously, particularly if it is a rescue dog.
  • A change from the normal home routine i.e.; owner no longer works from home, or spends a greater time away from home.
  • Changing homes or a change in the family.

How can you help your dog?

  • Take charge by being the leader: many behavioural problems arise from a lack of leadership by the owner.
  • Encourage your dog to be confident and independent by trying to find a happy balance between respect for his leader (you), enjoying your companionship and attention and being alone.
  • Don’t let your dog follow you around constantly at home . Your dog needs to learn that it is ok to be alone. Send him to his basket or blanket and give him ‘chill time’.
  • Teach your dog to be relaxed when he is away from you i.e.; place his basket in another room and send him to it with a chew or a favourite toy so it’s not a punishment but treat time!
  • Try to retrain your dog to understand that your absences are normal.
  • Don’t give your anxious dog too much attention – he needs to learn independence.

If your dog is suffering from mild separation anxiety the following retraining may help:

If he gets anxious when you prepare to leave:

  • Pick up car keys, put on your jacket etc but don’t go anywhere! Sit and watch TV or potter about the house for a while. Then put the keys down and take off your coat. If you do this often your dog will no longer associate these things with your departure.
  • Do trial run departures; go out for 5 minutes and then come back gradually increasing the amount of time you are away, do it randomly so your dog cant guess when you will be back!
  • Give your dog a toy puzzle with treats inside (a Kong works really well) when you leave to keep him busy when you go out.
  • Don’t make a big fuss when you leave or when you return

Speak to the hand! Ignore your dog!

“When you give a separation-anxious dog attention, dole it out in very brief increments. One second can be enough.”

Dogs that have anxiety issues are often constantly in need of attention. 
You need to learn to ration your attention to help him understands that:
a) he can survive without you
b) you are the boss

  • If your dog approaches you for affection ignore him for a few minutes until he gives up, then YOU ask him to come to you and give him love and a treat.
  • Give your dog attention when he is being good to reinforce positive behaviour i.e.; when resting in his bed or favourite spot and is relaxed.
  • It is better not to allow an anxious dog to sit on your lap (rather at your feet) sleep in your bed (rather in his own bed in your room) at least until he has gained some independence from you and has overcome its separation anxiety.

Use training to help build your dog’s confidence: don’t let your dog train you!

  • A dog will do whatever works to get your attention- barking, scratching and performing – try to ignore it don’t even make eye contact!
  • Basic obedience training such as sit, stay, down if used every day can really build your dogs confidence. Remember always reward your dog for good behaviour with small titbits.
  • If you have the time join an obedience group
  • Exercise – it is so important for your dog’s mind and body to be exercised with regular walks, runs or swims and it helps to use up all that extra energy!

Make home a safe haven.

  • Make sure that the dog has quiet, comfortable places around the house that he can go to and feel safe whether it is his bed or just a blanket or cushion, somewhere with familiar smells. Dogs need to have a base.
  • If you listen to the radio, music or have a TV going when your home it may help to leave it on when you go out

And so if all else fails..
Behavioural problems can be a nightmare and you may need to consult a professional behaviourist that can observe yours and your dog’s behaviour in your home. There are also medications that can be prescribed by your Veterinarian that can ease your dog’s anxiety.

Your dog is not behaving badly in order to punish you – so don’t punish him! Even if you come home to a real mess, punishing your dog after the fact will mean nothing to him. ALWAYS reward positive behaviour, be patient, get professional help but don’t give up on your dog. He would never give up on

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