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Separation Anxiety in Dogs
by Tracy Atkins
Complete Canine Training
Spring, Texas
281-825-6404 www.YESPUP.com

Because separation anxiety is a learned behavior, it's fairly easily untaught!

My dog freaks when I leave. What is going on?
Many dogs suffer from separation anxiety for many different reasons. The classical symptoms are destructive behaviors like scratching and eating doors, crate destruction, eating/destroying blinds or window treatments. In addition, some dogs exhibit excessive drooling, panting, excessive barking or whining, house soiling and even self mutilation.

How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety or is just mad at me for leaving?
Dogs get frustrated which can lead to anxiety. So either way, the problem behavior remains and the treatments are the same. Clinical diagnosis of separation anxiety can be made by your veterinarian or behavior specialist.

What about drug therapy?
Drug companies are now marketing several products available to help alleviate the symptoms of separation anxiety. However, studies show that the most dramatic results occur with behavioral therapy alone or a combination of drug and behavioral therapy. Drug therapies without behavior modification can be costly (average $1.00 per day, for life). Consult with your veterinarian about drug therapies if your dog is injuring himself due to the separation anxiety. Otherwise, consider the behavioral modification first.

S/he is so destructive. Is there hope?
YES! CCT's "I'm Alone" behavior modification has an 80% success rate, meaning when training is completed dogs are able to be comfortable when confined for long periods of time. Basically you will need to re-train your dog to learn correct behavior. This will take effort on your part as well as your dog. The behavior modification process averages eight to fourteen weeks and must be maintained for the life of your dog.

The process includes confidence building through social skills, obedience and trick training, massages therapy, homeopathy and dietary changes. Combined, these trigger a relaxation or comfort responses in dogs who otherwise are very distraught and anxious.

What can I do?
First evaluate your dog. Is s/he clingy or shy? Do you respond immediately to every wish your dog has? Many times owners inadvertently create separation anxiety. It is a result of abnormal bonding to the owner. The dog
just can't stand to see you leave. In its frantic attempt to be with you s/he becomes destructive. If s/he destroys things and you come home, guess what the dog thinks: "If I destroy, they come home."

Punishing the behavior tends to worsen it - quickly. You must go beyond treating the symptoms and treat the problem. If the problem is that the dog is afraid to be confined, you must teach him to be comfortable when he's confined. If it's the fact that you're gone, then you must teach him to be contented when alone.

So you mean I caused this behavior?
You get ready to go. You gather your purse, keys, lists, briefcase etc. by the door. You are nervous about leaving the dog and to comfort her, you love on her. You tell her how great she is and tell her not to worry that you'll be back soon. When you return, you've missed her so much. You know she's been upset at for leaving because the blinds have been eaten. You love on her again, telling her how much you missed her, then you fuss at her for eating the blinds.

This is a perfect example of how to create and build an anxious dog. It's the heavy attention associated with comings and goings that creates the dogs behavior. It is simply associating your attention with the departures and arrivals. It's interesting to note that most separation anxiety related behavior occurs within thirty minutes of the owners departure and within thirty minutes prior to the owners return.

Okay so tell me how to fix the anxiety because I can't stand the destructive behavior.
Some quick fixes for minor anxiety include hiring a pet sitter, or have a friend, relative to help out in staying with the dog. Consider Doggie Day Care or take her with you to prevent destructive behavior. Use floral remedies, like Bach's Rescue Remedy® (four to ten drops in the water bowl or by mouth four times per day) to help the dog calm. Acupuncture and accupresure also help many dogs cope.

Long term treatment is basically going back to the beginning:
Crate Train! Teach your dog, it's a comfortable, safe, secure place to be. Give her a special treat or toy, like a stuffed Kong, she can only have when you are out of site. Put a towel that has "marinated" in the hamper in the crate. Some dogs find it comforting to smell you. Try covering the crate. For some dogs out of site is out of mind. For others, wire crate allow them to see out and it acts as a self-calmer.

Habituate it! Condition her to respond to music. Play pre-recorded (CD or tape) classical music at a normal listing level when nice things are occurring like eating, playing, cuddling etc. The dog will begin to associate that music with happy anticipation, which is incompatible with a fear response. (Radio stations do not work, because too many different kinds of music are played.) When you go, leave the same music on continuous play.

Think Business! ALL comings and goings must be neutral. This means no 'whiny' or exuberant or lingering good byes and no excited greetings. The dog must be ignored until she is calm and has stopped trying to solicit attention. Ignore her starting ten minutes before you go and ten minutes after you return - this means avoiding making direct eye contact, touching and talking.

Be Neutral! No matter how much damage the dog has done, stay calm - think business. If you are too frustrated, leave the house and call a trainer. Much anxiety is caused by the dog never knowing if owner arrival will mean good or bad. Most separation anxiety can be eliminated by stopping emotional arrivals.

Build Confidence! Train basic commands or even trick training. Earning rewards builds confidence and it allows your dog to learn how to communicate with you. Out-of-sight stay would also be helpful.

Train for Reality! Build up to longer and longer periods away by implementing all of the above techniques. Set your dog up to succeed by practicing departures and arrivals. Leave for very short times, returning and implementing the Think Business techniques.

What else can I do?
Please read our handouts on Creating A Calmer Dog, Crate Training and Destructive Chewing. Our trainers can help you and your dog with out Separation Anxiety Re-Training Program!

Copyright 1994-2005 Tracy Atkins, Complete Canine Training, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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