Treating dogs with severe separation anxiety

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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.
Other components of the program might include increasing exercise levels, expansion of obedience training, pressure wraps (such as the Thundershirt), and in some cases, medication. 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.
This entry was posted in Dog Training and tagged dog behavior, dog separation anxiety, dog training, separation anxiety.
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. For younger dogs, gradually accustom them to longer periods alone and precede these periods with quality time. Leave your dog with something desirable that he can only have when alone and that will keep him occupied, such as food balls or toys. Seperation anxiety may be preventable with proper socialization and training when a puppyPuppies should be well socialized with other animals and people. 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.


The key is teaching him that leaving him alone actually means good things — the goal is for him to associate your departure with something positive. Dogs who’ve been properly introduced to their crate tend to feel safe and secure in this private den. A new pet or an older established one or an animal that has experienced some kind of trauma or illness may exhibit these signs and a vet check may be necessary.
In some cases, dogs prefer the sanctuary of a crate to being left alone in a big open house. In fact, a diagnosis of separation anxiety in no way precludes a healthy and happy existence for your dog.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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).



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