Thursday, March 10, 2011

Separation Anxiety

Does your dog have separation anxiety?

Dogs are social animals and don't like to be separated from their pack; that's why it's so important to treat coming and going as no big deal.

We now realize the way we treat our dogs has a direct connection to separation anxiety. Often our dogs are cuddled too much, spoiled and have no rules. Our intentions may be good but the results may be anything but.

Your Dog's Basic Needs

All dogs need plenty of exercise every day, mental stimulation and rules to follow. Of course it's important to show your dog affection, but affection is not just about hugging and petting. You can give your dog a massage, a toy, a game of fetch, the occasional treat and a calm environment. Remember affection should only be given when your dog is exhibiting a behaviour you agree with.

Prevent Separation Anxiety

Never pay attention to your dog when leaving or first returning home. The goal is for it to be no big deal that you come and go. This can be a real challenge for people. Just keep in mind that you will be helping your dog cope with your absence if you act more nonchalant about it.

Exercise also makes a big difference. Start the day with a long walk (try for a minimum of 30 minutes). This has wonderful benefits for you too! When you get home, feed your dog and calmly go about your business of getting ready to leave. You don't have to say goodbye, you won't hurt her feelings. You can leave the house feeling good that you have fulfilled your dog's needs for exercise, food and rest. Isn't that better than feeling guilty for leaving?

If you have a high energy dog, a 30 minute walk might not be enough. You will either have to increase the time or increase the intensity of those 30 minutes. You can do that by jogging, rollerblading or biking with your dog. Or find obstacles to go around or climb over such as big rocks, picnic tables or benches. Walking different routes will also add extra mental stimulation (new smells and sights). Maybe even end your walk with a game of fetch in the park or your backyard.

Confidence Building Exercises

Next time you are out walking find a place where you can safely tie your dog's leash. Walk out of your dog's sight for a few minutes. If your dog whines or barks while you are gone use a verbal correction "shh" in an assertive tone and walk calmly back to her. Continue on your walk and try again at another tree or bench. Once your dog successfully waits for you calmly, you can praise her. It could take many tries but don't give up. Your dog's confidence will build over time.

Also practice going out of the house for short periods of time.  Go out the front door, return by the back door. Do not talk to your dog during this exercise and always remain calm. Remember you can interrupt if she barks or whines with "shh" (or whatever works for you). Your assertive tone is more important that the actual sound or word you use.

Serious Cases of Separation Anxiety

If your dog's anxiety is so severe that she is damaging things and trying to get out of your house, you may consider a crate while you are working on the issue. If you do this you have to gradually get her used to it. This could take days or weeks. A crate should be a safe haven for a dog, not a confinement or punishment. So please if you are going this route, take the time to introduce it properly. And never put your dog in his crate in a rush, it'll benefit you both to be calm about it.

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