HELP YOUR DOG TO COPE WITH BEING ALONE

Separation anxiety refers to the distress that some dogs feel in the absence of a person (or less often, an animal) to whom they are highly attached. The anxiety can be expressed in several ways including vocalisation (barking, whining), destructive behaviour, salivation, pacing, house-soiling, escaping or depression.
 

Anxiety is a cascade phenomenon - once you get upset it is easier to become more upset. The memory of an unpleasant experience will make the same situation even more stressful next time. Avoid these situations whenever possible until there is time to implement strategies which will enable the dog to cope with separation without distress. Here are some short-term strategies that may help your dog to cope.
 

Denning and "dog-sitting"
 

Some mildly affected dogs may accept confinement in an exercise pen, crate, cubby or den.
 

  • Give the dog some items, such as an unwashed sweater and appropriate chew toys such as Kongs.

  • Some dogs may prefer the car and settle better there. !This is not suitable on warm days or if the dog is very destructive!

  • Allow access to a place closely associated with the owner such as a couch or bed.

  • Ask a friend or neighbour (who is willing) to check on the dog at certain intervals or temporarily "dog-sit".

  • When you have to leave home early in a retraining program try "doggie daycare" at a veterinary hospital or boarding kennels.
     

Departure routines
 

Many dogs recognise departure routines and these are cues to become distressed. Identify ways that will relax the dog to help him tolerate your departures better.
 

  • Carry out activities such as picking up keys, packing a briefcase or putting on a uniform but then stay home, practice these "mock" departures many times.

  • You might know of a cue that helps your dog relax, eg putting on joggers indicates a short departure for a morning jog. You could put these joggers on and go to work.
     

"Relaxation" cues
 

On days when you are leaving the dog for very short periods only, you can develop some cues that indicate you will be back soon, eg:

  • A particular piece of music.

  • A special blanket or rug, a novel toy. These show the dog that the departures are "safe" and that you will be back very soon.

  • These items MUST be removed at other times or they will lose their significance.
     

Greeting and departures

Downplay greetings and departures:

  • Ignore the dog for 5 - 15 minutes before you leave and for 5 - 15 minutes on your return. This helps to avoid the intense highs and lows that are contributing to the anxiety levels your pet is experiencing.

  • Set a light or radio on a timer programmed to come on 15 - 30 minutes before your arrival home to defuse the sudden nature of your return.
     

Guilt

When dogs have separation anxiety we often come home to find precious things destroyed, or urine or faeces on the carpet. Remember the dog is not doing this out of spite but because he is anxious about being left alone.
 

Our bodies get tense and we speak with a loud, stern voice. Dogs are sensitive to body language - this is a large part of their communication to each other. You think your dog looks "guilty" for what he has done! But he is just responding to your angry body language and submitting to your authority.
 

Some dogs will cower before you even have the opportunity to assess if any damage has been done. This is because they have learnt from past experience that you are displeased if there is destruction or soiling, not as a result of guilt about making the mess. Your dog would show exactly the same reaction if another dog were responsible for the destruction.
 

Punishment in these circumstances will only make him more anxious and the signs of distress will get worse.

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