Treating dogs with severe separation anxiety

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Separation anxiety can result from suffering a traumatic experience, such as a major earthquake or becoming lost in unfamiliar surroundings. Unfortunately, sometimes separation anxiety just isn’t preventable, especially with an older dog. One of the first things that you need to do is look for the warning signs of separation anxiety. The best way to tell if your dog is suffering from anxiety, and that they aren’t just bored, is to spend more time with them and get them some toys to play with throughout the day. Most pet owners want to treat the separation anxiety naturally, rather than give them medications to help ease the effects. Seperation anxiety may be preventable with proper socialization and training when a puppyPuppies should be well socialized with other animals and people.
It’s easy to get angry or think your dog is trying to make your life miserable, but that’s not the case.
Separation anxiety is usually diagnosed if your dog becomes extremely upset when you leave, or when you appear to be leaving;  for example, by picking up your keys.
If your dog does display these behaviors, it’s important to remember that they result from anxiety, not because your dog wants to drive you crazy, and that punishing your dog will only make the problem worse.
Most researchers agree that separation anxiety is caused by a few different factors, one of which might be a strong genetic component — in other words, it’s not your fault!
However, the good news is that researchers did not find that “spoiling activities” had an effect on separation anxiety one way or the other, so feel free to keep sleeping with your dog and feeding him bacon. Separation anxiety is not an easy fix, and behaviorists generally will attack it with a three-pronged approach.
Then, start leaving for short periods of time at first, and gradually increase the time you’re gone until your dog realizes that you’re going to come back.
In addition, make sure your dog has plenty of things to keep him safely occupied while you are gone - like a Kong or other rugged chew toys, or bully sticks.  Obedience training or agility training can also help your dog feel more in control and calm, and crate training, if started slowly, can provide a safe haven for your dog. Although it might feel strange to be picking up Prozac at your local pharmacy for your dog, many owners find that even a short time on an approved drug really can help.
Jaime Van Wye is the CEO and Lead Dog Trainer at Zoom Room, which offers classes in dog agility, obedience, puppy preschool, therapy dog, tricks training, and a wide range of specialty classes such as Shy Dog for newly-adopted rescue dogs. It sounds like what she needs to be successful is a solid training regimen that an experienced dog trainer can provide you with.
I am so glad to read that my newly adopted dog who is an 9 month chihuahua isn’t insane and has a reason for her behavior.
If you come home to find your dog chewing on your old house slippers, in all probability he simply finds the activity enjoyable and uses your absence as a chance to gnaw away, uninterrupted. For example, your dog knows that when you put on your jacket, you’re about to leave the house. Dogs who’ve been properly introduced to their crate tend to feel safe and secure in this private den. Left untreated, it causes damage to your house and belongings — and serious psychological suffering for your dog. We already mentioned the separation anxiety that puppies have, and this is sometimes something that they just grow out of as they get older and become more trusting that you will return home to them at the end of the day. This often times makes it difficult to determine why your dog may be experiencing this anxiety when they are separated from you. There are a variety of different signs that may indicate that they suffer from separation anxiety.
There are a few things that you can do that will be all natural, safe and effective at modifying your dog’s behavior and helping them to feel at ease. It’s more likely that your dog has separation anxiety – an anxiety disorder that can cause many dog behavior problems. Luckily, we know a lot more now than we used to about how to treat separation anxiety, so you have a much better chance of coming home to a happy dog and a clean house.
These “exit cues” are an indication to him that you’re heading out the door, and some dogs will whine, pace, or bark. However, if your dog is “hyper-attached” to you, chances are greater that he or she will develop separation anxiety at some point.
Other factors that play into separation anxiety include new ownership or a change in the household (like a new baby or moving) which can all trigger anxiety.


The best remedy for separation anxiety is to get your dog used to you leaving and coming back, over and over and over again.
Try to avoid becoming very excited either leaving or returning, because you are trying to keep your dog from becoming emotional. Get your dog out doing something (going to the dog park, running, games of fetch, even long walks) and he’ll be more settled around the house. Van Wye has trained dogs in search and rescue, bomb and drug detection, criminal apprehension and tracking. The results — including the destruction of your belongings and the deterioration of your dog’s mental and physical health — can be devastating. It is strongly recommended that you seek help from a reputable behaviorist if you think desensitization is your best treatment option.
This signals to your dog that coming and going are casual, common occurrences — no need for drama or spectacular displays of emotion.
In some cases, dogs prefer the sanctuary of a crate to being left alone in a big open house. For situations that warrant desensitization treatment, it is strongly recommended that you consult a professional. The problem is, sometimes the signs of separation anxiety are very closely related to the signs that come along with just plain boredom in dogs.
Puppies will often show these signs in the beginning, and sometimes it is because of both boredom AND separation anxiety. This difference is that, instead of just the crying and whining you may see with kids, your dog may have some additional unpleasant surprises for you when you get home, including shredded pillows, garbage on the floor, and maybe the smell or telltale stains of ‘accidents’. Dog pheromones that mimic the smell of a mother dog can help reduce separation anxiety, as can Rescue Remedy, an over-the-counter calming supplement. Sometimes dogs with severe anxiety can make owners feel overwhelmed, but taking a step-by-step approach to treating it WILL pay off, so try and be patient.
She is a Certified Master Dog Trainer, a graduate of the North State K9 Academy, and a Professional Level Member of the International Association of Canine Professionals.
In fact, a diagnosis of separation anxiety in no way precludes a healthy and happy existence for your dog.
Once you rule out anything physical, you can begin to treat the anxiety and modify their behaviors. Sometimes, homes that have multiple dogs will be less likely to have pups that experience these anxiety issues, because they always have someone there, a friend so to speak! 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. 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. 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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