Thursday, August 13, 2015

Separation Anxiety in dogs and how to help them overcome it

Does your dog have a hard time being left home alone? Do they bark, whine, or chew? There are many reasons why a dog might develop problems when home alone.
  • ·         They may never have been left alone before, or have never been separated from a particular person.
  • ·         There could be something the dog is scared of or worried by either inside the house or outside.
  • ·         An animal companion has passed away.
  • ·         Boredom. This typically affects young, energetic dogs who struggle when left to their own devices.

How can you tell if your dog is not coping well at home alone? If your dog is anxious about being left you may see the following:
  • ·         Your dog becomes distressed as soon as you leave. The first 15 minutes are the worst, during which time your dog becomes extremely upset. They could have increased breathing, panting, salivating, increased activity, and sometimes, a need to go to the bathroom. They may try to follow you out the door, scratch at the door, chew the door-frame, scratch the carpet, or jump up at the windowsill. You dog may also bark, whine, or howl to try to persuade you to come back.
  • ·         After this frantic period, the dog my settle down to chew something that you have recently touched that still carries your scent. Dogs will often chew scented items into small pieces and curl up in the debris so that your dog forms a ‘barrier’ of your scent around them for security.
  • ·         On your return, your dog my appear elated and may become very excitable. They may be wet, either from salivating or excessively drinking due to stress.
  • ·         When you are home, your dog may attempt to follow you wherever you go in the house. They may begin to display anxious behaviors when they see you preparing to leave the house.

How can you help your dog?
Treating separation anxiety is about teaching your dog to tap into new emotions when left alone that will alleviate their anxiety.  It can be a very daunting, time consuming, and boring behavior problem to address, but your dog is worth it. He is counting on you to help him through this trauma.

Complete obedience training. Dogs that have a strong foundation in obedience training statistically have a lower frequency of anxiety-related problems.  The more a dog is able to obey his owner and do what his owner wants him to do, the more the dog feels comfortable, safe, and more confident in himself.

Help him prepare for the inevitable. Your dog will most likely learn to recognize when you are about to leave: you put on shoes, you grab your keys, and you don a jacket. Hide cues that you are leaving so you’re dog isn’t able to infer you’re about to head out.  Whatever you normally do when you leave, try doing it but then sit down and watch tv for a while. This will show your dog that those are not necessarily signs that his owner is leaving him and he will become less tuned to those actions. Give him a treat before closing the door so your departure is associated with something positive.

Take it slow. When your dog has severe separation anxiety, you want to take things in baby steps. Start leaving your dog alone for a couple minutes at a time and get him used to that. You can then gradually bump up the time-frame. The more consistent you are with this training, the better luck you should have with easing your pet’s anxiety. If you know that you will be gone for a long while, you might consider having a friend or family member come and stay with your dog or take him to their home for that time period; this way your dog will have someone with him and will not need to feel as stressed about the separation. You may also consider hiring a dog walker to visit your pooch in the middle of the time frame you are gone if you are, for instance, working all day. This will give your pup someone to keep him company for a while and he will also get some exercise which will help calm him down.
Why punishment won’t help
It is natural for owners to be angry or disappointed if they return to find damage to their home, mess in the house or annoyed neighbors. Sensing that their owners are upset with them, many dogs will display ‘appeasement behavior’ – their ears may go flat, their body may be lowered and their tail may go between their legs. Some will look away and narrowing their eyes, as if they are cringing .
Appeasement behavior is often misinterpreted as guilt, and mistakenly some owners believe the dog knows what they have done is wrong. They may feel that any damage caused or mess in the house has been done on purpose or out of spite for being left alone. Unfortunately, this may mean that the dog is punished in an attempt to stop the behavior.
Dogs that look guilty are doing nothing more than responding to an owner’s disappointment, upset or anger and it is their way of diffusing tension in response to feeling threatened. Some dogs will also do this if they think they are about to be told off if they have been so in the past. 
Any punishment given on returning home won’t help stop the problem. Dogs associate punishment with what they are doing at that moment in time and so a dog will not link the telling off with their actions before their owner came home, even if they are taken over to ‘the scene of the crime’. It is not that they cannot remember what happened; they just won’t be able to make a connection between the punishment and something they did hours ago.
Punishment is not only useless but it is also likely to make the problem worse. Now, as well as being anxious about being left, a dog will also be worried about the owner returning, which can make any symptoms much, much worse.

Where can you find items to help with separation anxiety?
Mickey's Pet Supplies has many different chew toys and training treats to help you and your dog get through this difficult trial. We recommend Kong toys and Antlers to keep your pup busy while your gone. We also recommend treats from Cloud Star, Fruitables, and Zuke's to fill the Kong toys and to help with obedience training.