Treating dogs with severe separation anxiety

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Your dog may look happy when you return, but in truth if your dog is excitable, he may be experiencing mental anguish, which is not healthy.
In order to stop our dogs from having separation anxiety, we first need to understand what is causing it. Since it is not natural for a pack animal to be left alone, this can also occur in a submissive dog that does see you as the leader, but that is not completely secure within his pack or a dog that has not learned how to handle being alone. If you have more than one dog, and you do not know which dog is being destructive, you need to play private investigator.
Moving to a new house: Dogs thrive on routine, and moving to a new home can have a big impact on his daily routine.
Change of family members: A child going away to school or a death in the family can be stressful on a dog.
Plenty of exercise: A vigorous walk or job every morning before you leave for the day can not only give your dog some extra time with you, but will also help tire him out. Exits and entrances are no big deal: If you act like leaving is no big deal, chances are your dog will think so too. There are many different reasons why a dog may have separation anxiety and things you can do about it. More than half of my clients bring dogs into their lives from shelters or other situations in which the dog’s history is unclear.  And a fairly large percentage of those have some sort of behavioral issue, such as fear-based aggression, barrier frustration (on leash or behind doors or gates) or, the subject of today’s post, separation anxiety. However, just because after you leave for work your dog tears up furniture, soils the carpet, or barks all day, it does not automatically mean he’s suffering from separation anxiety; he could just be bored out of his mind or under-exercised. Having owned well-trained dogs all my life, I started Better Nature Dog Training to exploit decades of experience teaching across a number of fields.
I teach people how to effectively train their dogs by clearly demonstrating that every interaction counts when training a dog to come when called, for example, or instructing a puppy how to best get along in life.
Training a puppy or dog can be a most rewarding life experience; it can also be stressful and perplexing. This entry was posted in Dog Training and tagged dog behavior, dog separation anxiety, dog training, separation anxiety.
Seperation anxiety may be preventable with proper socialization and training when a puppyPuppies should be well socialized with other animals and people. When you come back, do some other things first, like taking off your coat and putting the groceries away, before you greet the dog. You may still want to crate your dogs while you are gone, however having the crates close to one another can ease your dogs’ tension, as they will not be alone. It affects dogs of all ages and breeds and can cause serious distress and injury to your pooch.
This is because working pet parents want their dogs to have company while they are away from home. I am nationally-certified through the highly-respected Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and am a professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. The scientific aspect comes from understanding dog psychology from an evolutionary perspective, knowing how dogs are both similar to and distinct from their ancestors, including the grey wolf. One of the best services I provide is taking the guesswork out while lending a sure, guiding hand in successful dog behavior development and modification.
Just be sure you are the pack leader to your first dog before you venture into getting a second dog.
Some dogs are just anxious by nature (born with it), are taken away from their mothers too soon as others, or develop it because of a dramatic life event (being left by their family at a shelter).
Dogs get to play with other pooches, get taken out for walks and some even provide field trips.
The holistic component derives from taking into account all facets of any particular dog’s situation, including upbringing, prior training, traumatic events and—most importantly—the characteristics of his home and family life. If your dog is instinctually seeing you as his follower and you leave him, it causes so much mental anguish that a dog often takes it out on your house or himself.


Saying goodbye to a dog is something that helps the human deal with the separation, but in reality the ritual of saying goodbye means nothing to the dog.
If you successfully position yourself as the pack leader to the first dog, he will help you teach the second one the house rules.
Once you know your dog is comfortable with you being gone for short amounts of time, start stretching it out to 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and so on. The dog sees himself as the one who is responsible for the pack and when the pack has left the house he gets in a panic because he is afraid that something might happen to his pack members, for whom he is responsible. This may be enough companionship and a much-needed break in the day that will tide your dog over until he gets to see you again. Along with a treat ball, leave lots of toys and activities for your dog to amuse himself with. A well adjusted puppy should do well either alone or with the family and will be less likely to have seperation anxiety in the future. If you do not understand the instincts of the dog and his pack members, the articles on this page Understanding Dog Behavior will give you a better idea of how your dog instinctively thinks. If you allow the dog to pull in front, you are once again re-enforcing to your dog that she is alpha over you.
If you do not make your dog heel beside or behind you, the walk will not accomplish its intended goal. When a dog walks with her mind focused on her owner, she releases both physical and mental energy. This too, although it does not happen often, is separation anxiety because it only happens when we leave the house. This works her brain and fulfills her canine instinct, but also relieves them of the responsibility of having to provide leadership in a human society, which the dog is really not equipped to do. Destructive activity is often focused on owner possessions, or at the doors where owners depart or the dog is confined, and most often occurs shortly after departure. If the dog destroys, vocalizes or eliminates both while the owners are at home and when they are away, other causes should first be considered.
Dogs that eliminate when owners are at home may not be completely housetrained or may have a medical problem. Some dogs will attempt to escape or become extremely anxious when confined, so that destructiveness or house-soiling when a dog is locked up in a crate, basement, or laundry room, may be due to confinement or barrier anxiety and associated attempts at escape. In other situations fear or anxiety due to an external event (construction, storms, fireworks) may trigger destructive behaviors.
Old dogs with medical problems such as loss of hearing or sight, painful conditions and cognitive dysfunction may become more anxious in general, and seek out the owner's attention for security and relief. Perhaps the best way to determine if the behaviors are due to the anxiety associated with the owner's departure is to make an audiotape or movie clip of the behavior when the dog is alone. Establish a daily routine so that your dog can begin to predict when it can expect attention (including exercise, feeding, training, play and elimination) and when it should be prepared for inattention (when it should be napping or playing its favored toys. At this point, new exploratory and chew toys can be given so that the pet has novel and motivating toys on which to focus when it is time to settle.
With separation anxiety you must reinforce the pet for settling down, relaxing and showing some independence, while attention seeking and following behaviors should never be reinforced. Therefore, training should focus on extended and relaxed down stays and going to a bed or mat on command (see our 'Training Dogs - Settle and Relaxation Training' handout). If your dog seeks attention, you should either ignore your dog entirely until it settles, or have your dog do a down-stay or go to its mat.
You want your dog to learn that calm and quiet behavior is the only way to receive attention.
Not only should attention-seeking behavior be ignored, but all casual interactions should be avoided for the first few weeks, so that it is clear to both you and your dog that a settled response achieves rewards and attention seeking does not.
It might be helpful to have a barricade, tie down or crate that could be closed to ensure that your dog remains in the area for long enough at each session before being released.


On the other hand, know your pets' limits; your dog must be calm and settled when released so as to avoid reinforcing crying or barking behavior.
At first your dog can be taken to this area as part of its training routine using a toy or treat as a lure or a leash and head halter. In time, a daily routine should be established where the dog learns to lie on its mat after each exercise, play and training session to either nap or play with its own toys.
This is similar to the routine for crate training, where the mat or bed becomes the dog's bed or playpen.
Other than play, exercise and training sessions, focus on giving your dog some or all of its rewards (treats, toys, chews, affection, feeding toys) only in this area.
This can be as simple as having the dog respond to a command such as "sit" prior to receiving anything it wants. For example if the dog asks to go outside, prior to opening the door the dog is given the command to "sit" and once it complies, the door is opened.
See our handout on 'Training Dogs – Learn to Earn and Predictable Rewards' for other examples. In addition, the pet must learn to accept progressively longer periods of inattention and separation while the owners are at home.
Your dog should soon learn that the faster it settles, the sooner it will get your attention.
On the other hand, some dogs learn that other signals indicate that you are not planning to depart (inhibiting cues) and therefore can help the dog to relax. If you can prevent your dog from observing any of these anxiety inducing pre-departure cues, or if you can train your dog that these cues are no longer predictive of departure, then the anxiety is greatly reduced. Even with the best of efforts some dogs will still pick up on "cues" that the owner is about to depart and react.
Train your pet to associate these cues with enjoyable, relaxing situations (rather than the anxiety of impending departure). By exposing the dog to these cues while you remain at home and when the dog is relaxed or otherwise occupied, they should no longer predict departure. The dog will be watching and possibly get up, but once you put every thing away, the dog should lie down.
Only 3-4 repetitions should be done in a day and the dog must be calm and quiet before presenting the cues again. Eventually, the dog will not attend to these cues (habituate) because they are no longer predictive of you leaving and will not react, get up or look anxious as you go about your pre-departure tasks. In this way the desired behavior is being shaped and reinforced with the very attention that the dog craves. Remember however, that attention at other times, especially on demand, encourages the dog to follow and pester rather than stay in its bed and relax. From this point on, your dog should be encouraged to stay in its bed or crate for extended periods of time rather than sitting at your feet or on your lap. If your dog can also be taught to sleep in this relaxation area at night rather than on your bed or in your bedroom, this may help to break the over-attachment and dependence more quickly. This may be because the dog has learned to relax and enjoy the car rides, without receiving constant physical attention and contact. This provides a degree of proof that the dog can learn to relax if it is used to being ignored, has a location where it feels settled and gets used to departures gradually. This is similar to the way in which your dog should be trained to relax in your home and accept gradually longer departures.



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