Dealing With Separation Anxiety
Sharon Ayres, Anglia Pet Services
Whether your dog chews, urinates, howls or destroys household objects, this behaviour is upsetting for you and your dog. If this behaviour only happens when your dog is alone then it is probably due to anxiety. The fact is, dogs are pack animals and being left on their own does not come naturally to them. But with a little discipline (on your part) and lots of patience your dog can learn that being on his own is just part of the day's normal routine.
Crate training can be useful for some dogs (see article below). If your dog can feel content in a crate you can use it to help him feel safe when he is anxious or frightened, or to stop destructive behaviour if you are leaving him on his own.
Aromatherapy oils (article below) or DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheramone) can be useful for some dogs to help induce a calm state of mind.
For some dogs it may be enough to make alone time a positive experience by giving them a toy such as a kong stuffed with food as you leave. If your dog leaves it until you come home then take it away, so that your dog learns that he only gets the food if he eats it while he is alone. Taking your dog for a walk before he is left alone will also help him stay calm. For more anxious dogs you may need a little more patience and follow the steps below.
One of the biggest mistakes that most people make is to make loads of fuss of our dogs when they leave and on their return. That is what humans do, but dogs do not need to say goodbye. What you are actually doing when you make a fuss of your dog as you leave is bringing attention to the fact that you are leaving and that it is something to worry about (as your dog will no doubt pick up your feelings of concern) It may seem completely unnatural to us, but the kindest thing that you can do for your dog is to practice Cesar Milan's 'no touch, no talk, no eye contact' rule. If you just go about your business without talking to your dog and leave without saying goodbye you are teaching your dog that being alone is just part of his daily routine. Again on your return just walk in without making any fuss and ignore your dog until he calms down. This may be very difficult for you but your dog will thank you for it.
Your dog very quickly learns the cues that lead to you going out such as getting your coat and keys. While your dog is learning to feel safe alone it is a good idea to pick up your coat or keys whilst you are at home from time to time to help reduce the anxiety caused by these actions.
When teaching separation techniques you are aiming to keep your dog's level of anxiety low. He is going to display anxiety as you practice these techniques, but your aim is to keep it at a low level so that he is never reaching a state that will be counter-productive. Signs of anxiety in dogs include drooling, panting, pacing, barking, digging, hiding, flatulence, or urinating.
'Practice' leaving the house. Try going out and coming back in immediately several times a day until your dog stops displaying signs of distress. Gradually increase the time your dog is left, first 5 minutes, then 10, then 20, then half an hour up to a full 8 hours if necessary.
The ideal situation would be not to leave your dog on his own while he is learning these techniques. If you haven't got a friend or relative that could look after him while you are out then it would be worth considering doggy day care or a professional Pet Sitter until he has mastered the art of contentment in solitude.
Anglia Pet Services
ref: canineconcepts.co.uk, rspca.org.uk