Helping your pup through separation anxiety

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Just like young children, even the best pups experience separation anxiety when they’re left alone. This is not only heartbreaking for the pet parent, but it can have destructive

effects on the home. Rescue dogs or pets with abusive backgrounds especially sense panic when they find themselves separated from their owners. It can occur when there’s a new baby in the family, or the loss of a pet, or even at a change in the family routine.

If your furry companion follows you from room to room; if he greets visitors wildly and frantically; if he reacts with anxiety and alarm to your preparations to leave, then he may not take too kindly to being home alone all day. The most common behaviors indicative of separation anxiety are:

  • destructive chewing and scratching
  • howling, whining, and barking
  • urination and defecation (even if your pup is housetrained)
  • digging and scratching at doors and windows
  • self-mutilation – your dog may lick and chew at his paws until they’re bloody (a response also seen in cats and birds)

It is important to remember that your pup isn’t trying to punish you for leaving. The destruction and house soiling that may come with separation anxiety are part of a panic response. No owner wants to see their pet in this state. Fortunately, there are various forms of treatment you can discuss with your vet. One of the simplest is the sit-stay and down-stay commands, taught with positive reinforcement. With a few of his favorite treats, teach your dog that he can remain calmly and safely in one place while you’re in another room.

Another technique is to create a “safe place” for your pup. Instead of putting him in a kennel or cage, create loose confinement – a room with a window, for example, with plenty of distractions. Designate a specific location (his bed, for example) to give your dog treats and positive reinforcement. Have your dog relax in this happy space when you leave the house so there is minimal alarm when you’re gone. “Safety” toys (much like a child’s security blanket) also contribute to an anxious pet’s sense of calm.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. It can take a considerable amount of time for a dog to unlearn panic responses. In the meantime, you have several other options. You can talk to your vet about a mild anti-anxiety drug that won’t sedate your dog but should simply reduce overall anxiety. You can also take him to a doggie daycare facility or kennel while you’re away. Dog daycares are wonderful places for dogs to have fun in a safe and caring environment. Most daycares organize dogs into play groups specific for size and temperament and teach your pup to interact with other pets and humans alike. And, of course, you can always leave your dog in care of a relative or close friend.

I often wonder what my dog is doing at home when I’m out. It puts me at ease to know he isn’t in a panic and is securely waiting for me. Every dog owner should have the same peace, just as every pup should have the security of knowing his owner will return. Even if it takes a hundred sit-and-stays, it’s entirely worth it.

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