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Owners of dogs with separation anxiety know for a fact how heartbreaking this condition is and how difficult life can be alongside these canines. Many owners are housebound, too worried to leave their pals behind in fear of coming home to find a destructed home, or worse, an injured dog. It’s not unheard of for some dogs to break through glass windows, self-mutilate themselves, or scratch doors and walls until their nails and teeth are bleeding.
Owners of dogs with separation anxiety are often desperate for a solution. They are exhausted from finding damaged entry ways, accidents on the carpet and puddles of drool. Contrary to what many may think, the solution to separation anxiety is not only strictly through desensitizing and counterconditioning the dog to fake departures. Actually, in order for treatment to be effective it often requires a synergistic, holistic approach employing a variety of strategies.
Just like many other behavior problems in dogs, separation anxiety treatment requires an insight into a dog’s lifestyle tackling medical, nutritional, and behavior issues together. This synergistic approach offers a higher chance for success since there is less chance of something being missed.
Separation Anxiety Management and Solutions
So you know you have a dog suffering from separation anxiety. The symptoms start only when you are about to leave. The items chewed are windows and doors and items that have your scent such as the remote control. Your perfectly house trained dog soils when you leave, or leaves puddles of drool. Upon recording the behavior, you notice your dog never settles — barking, whining, chewing and digging the whole time until your return. Following are some solutions and management options.
See Your Veterinarian
There are times when separation anxiety is triggered by a medical problem. Separation anxiety g may signal hearing or vision loss, causing the dog to become more clingy to the owner. In some cases, in elderly dogs, it can be a sign of canine cognitive dysfunction. If your dog is young, he may have a medical problem that is making him more needy than usual.
Consult with a Dog TraineriBehavior Consultant
Many times, what owners think is separation anxiety iS only boredom. Separation anxiety is often over-diagnosed. A dog who chews the couch when the owner is away may just be killing time by having fun or venting his frustration. A dog who whines for the first 10 minutes and then settles is not suffering from separation anxiety.
You want the dog to be relaxed before you leave. A dog left alone with boundless energy doesn’t do well, and in a dog with separation anxiety, all that pent-up energy will go into rehearsing the unwanted behaviors of barking/digging/scratching and so on. Often separation anxiety is worse in the early morning, as the dog is happy to see his owners after a night of sleep. A nice, long and brisk walk in the
morning would be helpful in this case. Skip playing fetch or ball for just 10 minutes, as you’ll get your dog all hyped up and full of adrenaline, then when you suddenly leave, you’ll be left with a dog that is worse than before.
You want your dog to be on a high-quality diet. A meal loaded with fillers such as corn and byproducts may have the dog bouncing off the walls when you leave. Studies have shown that com, for instance, Towers tryptophan levels in dogs, which is a substance that aids the body in using the “calming chemical” serotonin. Eliminating all com from the diet may be helpful, and switching to a higher quality diet may already create positive behavioral changes in dogs within 3 weeks. Consult with a nutritionist for the best diet for your dog.
To help your dog through behavior modification there are some calming aids that can help him to stay calm. Composure is an over-the- counter chew by Vetri-Science that helps alleviate anxiety. DAP diffusers release pheromones that can help dogs with anxiety. Other aids include Thundershirts or Anxiety Wraps, recorded music for dogs (“Through a Dog’s Ear“ is one such recording) and in severe cases, prescription medications like Clomicalm and Reconcile. Many owners have found that leaving music or the TV on helps dogs to cope better, as long as this is done as well when the owner is not leaving, otherwise it becomes a pre-departure cue. Some like to record daily activity noises like noises of them washing the dishes and talking on the phone, then play those whan the dog is alone.
Dogs with separation anxiety need to gain more confidence. It’s almost as if these dogs are unable to function when their “other half” is away from the home. Clicker training, obedience training and nosework are some great confidence building options which can all be found in the Brain Training for Dogs course. If your dog follows you from room to room or sleeps in your bed, work on installing baby gates and getting him used to brief absences and give him a dog bed at a distance from your bed.
You’ll need to try your best to prevent your dog from rehearsing the anxious behavior. The digging/barking/whining behaviors are self- reinforcing behaviors as they help to release frustration, and if the dog is doing that when you come back home, the dog gets in the mode of thinking that it’s thanks to his behavior that you ultimately came back. In order to work on behavior modification you will need to endure staying at home as much as possible, especially during the initial weeks. Getting a pet-sitter/friend/relative or taking him to doggy daycare may help if you need to leave your dog during this phase. If you must leave and your dog gets nervous at the sound of the car, park your car faMer away the day prior, then on departure day, close the door without making much noise, then walk to the car so the engine noise is possibly muffled with the other cars, and hopefully your dog won’t pay much attention to the sound.
Depending on how severe the anxiety is, some dogs may do better in a crate and some absolutely not. This is something you will need to evaluate. Some dogs who tend to pace a lot, once in the crate, stop doing so. Others will panic so much they risk getting hurt once in the crate, especially if it’s a metal crate or if they tend to self-mutilate. Several dogs do better left in a bedroom because people’s scents are there more. Kitchens are good options for dogs who soil. Giving the whole run of the house is counter-productive, especially when the dogs ruin windows and doorways. It’s best to choose a single room and make it an extra happy place to be. When you are in the chosen room with your dog feed him treats, play games with him, give him a massage, or indulge in any other activity he particularly enjoys.
You want to be able to record your dog’s behavior during set ups, and if you can afford it, it would be ideal to have a webcam such as the rF_g_bg_Qgg Camera that you can monitor from outside so you know what’s going on and when it’s best to return inside (you don’t want to do so when the dog is actively whining/barking or you’ll reinforce it).
Low Key Demeanor
Your demeanor has a huge impact on how your dog manages your absences. Don’t make a big deal when you’re leaving the home and when coming back. Act normally and matter-of-fact.
Tip: Fortunately there is a way to see what your dog is getting up to while you are away using the Furbo Dog Camera. It lets dog parents see, talk and toss treats to their dog remotely.
For a more heavy duty approach to treating separation anxiety, we can look into using desensitization and counterconditioning.
How to Use Desensitization to Reduce Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety
In the case of separation anxiety, the goat is to have the dog become used to an owner’s absence through set-ups. Counterconditioning can be added on top of desensitization to power up the results. In counterconditioning, you are changing a dog’s emotions towards the feared situation or feared stimulus. Following are some ways to desensitize a dog to being separated from you.
Train your dog that it’s OK for you to walk around the home without him following you. Train your dog to perform a sit-stay and down-stay and build up on it (the Brain Training for Dogs course teaches your dog how to st, lie down and stay.). In this case, you’re working at a small distance just a few steps away from your dog, and then you’ll be gradually building more and more distance.
Take advantage of doom or install baby-gates in your home to rehearse fake departures. Tell your dog to sit-stay in your bathroom, (or behind a baDy gate) get out, then come back in, gradually increasing your time away. Then practice sit-stays with you finally exiting the real front door of your home.
Counter-condition your dog to associate your absence with something good. When you are about to leave the room for some time, give your pooch a stuffed KONG that will keep him entertained during your absence. What you are doing here is you’re working on a differential reinforcement of incomnatible behavior. In other words, you are setting your dog up for success by giving him a behavior to engage in (working on the KONG) which is incompatible with following you around the house.
Desensitize your dog to all the cues you are about to leave the home. You know how we talked about grabbing the keys being a cue, a predictor of you leaving the house? Well, now we’re basically re-programming the dog’s brain in such a way that all those cues mean nothing. So in other words, you will grab the keys and then sit on the couch. Put your jacket on, grab the keys and then watch TV. Then you would put on the jacket, grab the purse, get the keys and eat a sandwich. Basically, those cues are now no longer a cause for concern. You know you’re at a good point when you grab the car Keys and Rover doesn’t even pricx nis ears up… Booring!
It’s very important to never let your dog experience the full-blown sensation of separation anxiety during desensitization. Remember: In desensitization it’s crucial to expose him to situations (set-ups) that are significantly less stressful than the real thing. Your dog needs to remain calm. Each dog has a different perception of what is stressful, so you’ll need a good grip on what constitute Sjgns of stress in your dog.
You can keep your dog calmer by engaging in exercise prior to departing or by using calming aids or medications prescribed by your vet.
It’s best to employ the help of a professional to help your dog overcome separation anxiety. In severe cases, your vet may need to prescribe medications such as Clomicalm or Reconcile to use in conjunction with behavior modification.
Disclaimer: This article is not to be used as a substitute for veterinary, behavioral or nutritional advice. If your dog has developed symptoms congruent with separation anxiety consult with your vet, then once a clean bill of health is obtained, get a referral for a qualified dog trainer/behavior consultant. By reading this artide you accept this disclaimer.
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