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Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is the second most common reason that dogs are euthanized or given up by their owners. Most dogs react to the stress created from being left alone by becoming destructive, barking continuously, or eliminating in the house. Separation Anxiety occurs in dogs of all ages and breeds.The behaviors associated with separation anxiety follow a somewhat predictable course.

Many dogs bark excessively when they are first left alone. Some dogs continue barking for hours, while others go on to chose another behavior when barking does not bring about their owners return. Many owners inadvertently reinforce barking by returning to console their unhappy pet.

Some dogs become destructive when left alone. The stress causes them to dig, chew, or scratch. An otherwise well trained dog will suddenly chew or shred anything left in its path in an attempt to find relief from the anxiety it feels from being left alone.

There are several effective ways of correcting or at least minimizing these behaviors.

1. Adopt a matter of fact and calm attitude when preparing to leave the house. Emotional or lengthy goodbyes will only serve to heighten your dogs anxiety.

2. Dogs who become destructive should not be given the opportunity to do so. They must be crated or put in a small area devoid of household objects. Provide chew toys or rawhide strips for tension release (Chewing dogs can and do chew on electrical cords and can be electrocuted).

3. Whenever possible, exercise your dog before your departure.

4. When you leave, do so promptly, don't make a big deal of leaving.

5. Change your "leaving" routine. Most people have a set 'leaving" routine that they go through before leaving the house. they put on their shoes, close the windows, lock the door, jingle the keys, etc. Dogs learn this routine very quickly and if they already get anxious from being left alone, this long drawn out "leaving" routine can make matters worse,

6. Do your "leaving" routine, then sit down and don't leave.

7. For really anxious dogs, you may have to condition them over a period of days or weeks: 

      1. The first day, you will leave and come back about a dozen times. Each time you leave increase the amount of time you are gone: 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes,5 minutes, 7 minutes, 10 minutes, 155 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, etc. ANY time you come home and your dog is exhibiting his anxious behavior (chewing, barking, etc) cut the time you are gone in half the next time you leave. Once your dog is no longer anxious, start increasing the time again.  

      2. Because of the time involved and the commitment needed for these exercises, it is best to do this on your vacation or when you can build up to about 4 hours of being gone without any anxiety from your dog. 

Make sure you spend daily quality time with your dog. One to one time spent with you dog for 5-20 minutes a day can help your dog feel more secure in his environment as well as help strengthen the bond between you both. This quality time should not consist of babying, stroking, or cuddling, .....instead it should consist of doing things to build a strong master/dog relationship and bolster confidence in your dog. Fun obedience work using positive reinforcement, interspersed with with fun games of fetch, chase, and hide & seek can be very beneficial for the psychological well-being of your dog.

Some dogs may have such a severe case of separation anxiety, that they must be medicated. Check with your veterinarian about severe separation anxiety.