Please Don’t Leave Me: Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
By Sarah L Falkner
Separation Anxiety is the real fear of your dog that he will be left alone forever. This fear causes your dog to ‘act out’ with destructive behaviors that are sure to cause frustration in your household. The first rule of thumb is to train your family and friends to be responsible and keep valuables and important items put away and out of harms way until this behavioral problem has been solved.
Some of the causes of separation anxiety are being ‘rehomed’ in youth. You have rescued your puppy or dog from a shelter and his history involves being surrendered by owner to the shelter. Your dog may have already lost a family and will be sensitive when you leave the home. When you rescue a puppy or dog, he may have been abused or neglected and now that he is receiving the love and attention from your family he may fear you will leave him and he will have to return to an abusive way of life. Another cause of separation anxiety is the end of summer break and return to school schedules. Your dog has come to expect the children to be home all day and available to play and lavish attention upon him. Regardless of the cause of separation anxiety, it is very important to solve this behavioral problem as soon as possible. The destructive behavior can quickly become very expensive.
Some of the signals that your dog is experiencing separation anxiety include chewing on fur or paws, ripping up pillows or your brand new pair of designer shoes, shredding paper, barking or whining, and house soiling.
The best way to reassure your dog that it will be okay when you leave the house is to spend some time reinforcing his ability to trust that you will return. First you need to be sure that all family members agree to create non-emotional good-byes and hellos. Make sure that comings and goings are ‘no big deal’. Second, you will need to change up your normal morning routine. Your dog recognizes your routines. The alarm goes off. You walk your dog. You take your shower. You cook breakfast and/or pack lunches. You brush your teeth. You gather your briefcase and keys before you leave the house. Allow some extra time in the morning for adding some vigorous exercise and play with your dog. This will help in two ways. It will tire your dog and a tired dog will nap while you are gone. It will also reinforce your love and attention reducing your dog’s fear that you will abandon him. Third, feed your dog a little extra food after exercise. This will also lead to a very satisfying nap in the near future. Be sure that all family members take part in supplying meals. You cannot be the sole provider of food, walks, play, etc…this will lessen your dogs fear when you have to leave. Fourth, lavish your dog with extra attention in the hours before you plan to leave and leave the radio or television on to provide background noise that makes your dog feel that he is not alone in the house. Another thing that will help is to provide many chew appropriate items around for your dog to chew if the need to destroy something takes over. A perfect choice is a hollow toy such as a ‘Kong” filled with a wonderful treat. These toys also make it a challenge to retrieve the treat which will keep him busy for a long time.
All of these things will help reduce your dogs separation anxiety but the best course of action is preventative in nature. For example, in the weeks before the school begins, start to gradually allow your dog to be alone for short periods of time. Employ the non-emotional good-byes, extra exercise, big breakfast, extra attention. Leave your dog totally alone for 15-30 minutes at a time and continue this routine while increasing the time you are gone. Hopefully, by the time school does start, your dog will not feel any stress or separation anxiety because you have trained him that you will always return.
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