Dog Separation Anxiety the Cause and the Solution

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Dog Separation Anxiety the Cause and the Solution

by Justine Kay

Separation anxiety is a difficulty that many dogs experience when left alone at home or in a less familiar place. It is natural response for a puppy to be strongly bonded to its mother and litter mates, and when he leaves the litter, this bond will naturally transfer to the owner. This is generally a healthy relationship and generates a bond between a pet and owner. It is only a problem when the dog becomes too dependant on its owner and behavioural problems are created.

Separation anxiety is often characterised by urinating and defecating in the house by a usually house-trained dog, destruction of furniture and other items including beds, floors, furniture and doors, barking, whining, howling and hyperactivity. The dog may also appear depressed, although it is essential to remember that all of these traits can have other causes, both medical and psychological, so a check-up at the vets is always the first course of action. Separation anxiety is probably the culprit if the behaviour occurs soon after the departure of the owner and if the dog gives a hyperactive, prolonged greeting when the owner returns.

Certain breeds of dog are more dependent and therefore more prone to separation anxiety, but so too are dogs who have had traumatic events in their past that have encouraged an increased attachment once they finally find a loving owner. Puppies that were taken from their mother too early and puppies or dogs that have spent time in pet shops or animal shelters are also more susceptible to suffering when left alone by their owner. Changes in routine and lifestyle such as suddenly working full-time and being out all day or unusual absence of a family member due to death, illness or divorce can upset dogs that usually show no signs of separation anxiety.

A dog suffering from separation anxiety will exhibit his own unique behavioural problems ? some will develop one problem while others will exhibit several, sometimes beginning the anxiety cycle while the owner is still in the house in anticipation of him leaving. A dog that follows its owner from room to room, whines and whimpers, shakes and generally seems distressed as the owner prepares to leave the house is very often starting its episode of anxiety. This is where an owner can begin to re-train their dog to react differently to their departure.

A method known as ?planned departure? has proved to be very effective and is far more productive than simply correcting the behaviour, as it deals with the cause of the problem. The idea is to mould the dog's reaction by making a series of short departures. As the anxious response always occurs very shortly after the owner leaves the premises, the dog is left for only a few minutes (or even seconds to start with) to ensure that he returns before the dog becomes frenzied. The owner should leave the house quietly and calmly without speaking to the dog or giving him attention and should not allow the dog to exhibit a prolonged greeting on his return ? simply ignoring the behaviour and turning away will gradually discourage this. The planned departures should be very slowly increased in length, never staying away long enough for the dog to become agitated or frenzied. It take time to break old habits and patience will be necessary, but this process will eventually work. Once the dog is untroubled during a thirty minute departure, the length of time can be increased by larger increments.

If this method is taking a long time and is showing little sign of being effective, the owner can increase the effectiveness by systematically ignoring the dog around the house for a period of up to three weeks. The dog will not suffer from this, nor will the bond between dog and owner be lessened, but the dog will certainly be confused at first, especially if he's used to a lot of attention. It can help a dependent, anxious dog find a calmer, more independent existence which will facilitate periods of being alone in the home.

Justine Kay is an experienced dog owner and trainer. She is the webmistress at Dog Training Tips where she writes dog training articles and discusses the intricacies of dog psychology.

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