Separation Anxiety in Rescue Dogs ©
Provided as a courtesy to adopters of: 4 Keeps Animal Rescue
Separation anxiety, like fear aggression and phobias, is a fear-based behavior. Harsh punishments and yelling will not work to cure separation anxiety. Punishment will make it worse by raising the dog's overall anxiety and thereby contributing to the problem.
Separation anxiety can develop in dogs who
- have previously not spent much time alone ...
- who have been abandoned at key points in their psychological development ...
- who were not properly integrated into their first home and got relegated to a basement, garage or yard ...
- who were removed from mother and littermates too early (prior to 8 weeks of age) or too late (after 14 weeks) ...
- who have endured a traumatic event, such as a frightening experience at a shelter or kennel, or a significant change in their household, such as a new person joining the family, a move to another house, or change in the owner's work schedule.
Within minutes of its owner's departure, a dog with separation anxiety starts to whimper or bark. After vocalization fails to bring back its owner, the dog may try to escape -- chewing moldings, breaking screens, even shattering windows. In extreme cases, dogs may urinate or defecate in the house because they are simply beside themselves with anxiety.
Ways To Curb This Behavior
- Exercise your dog prior to your departure. It is important to take your dog on an energetic walk for at least 20 minutes. Really try to wear them out, especially if you plan to be gone for a long time. This is also a great opportunity to give them lots of attention and essentially say your "good-byes" without them knowing it.
- Distract your dog to prevent their anxiousness. Since dog's love to chew, why not use this to your advantage? If you have a Kong, fill it with your dog's favorite treat before leaving. Or use any other chew treat that will last at least 15-20 minutes, allowing you to leave peaceably, and occupying your dog so that they won't realize your departure is eminent.
- Calm your dog's nerves by turning on the radio to a soothing station when you do leave. Classical music works well, or any station that have talk shows. It is best to keep the volume at a low level, so it will be calming for your dog, and give them the feeling that they aren't all alone.
- Allow your dog to see outside. If possible, give your dog a view of some kind. This way they don't feel trapped and can see what is going on outside. If you have mini-blinds it is best to raise them up a bit, otherwise your dog may lash out and tear them apart..
- Adapt your dog to your departure routine. Take things nice and slow...practice getting ready to leave. Jingle your keys, put on your coat, open the door go out and come back in. Then sit down and don't go anywhere. Repeat this until your dog doesn't react to your routine any more, and when there's no reaction, give them a treat and lots of praise. Gradually work up to the point where your dog doesn't show any signs of stress when you are about to leave.
- Stay strong, and don't react to your dog if they start whining or crying. This is really tough to do, but if you give them attention while they are doing this, you are in effect reinforcing this behavior. And definitely avoid saying "It's OK, good girl/boy" when they are in this state.
The most important thing to remember when training your dog is to remain consistent.
Another thing you might want to consider is a product which is a sort of doggy "plug-in" called "Comfort Zone with DAP", which releases a chemical which is supposed to be a dog comforting hormone. It often helps to calm stressed or exited dogs down. For some "anxious dogs" it seems to really help take the edge off of their anxiety or intensity. Some researchers suggest that it may be as effective as clomipramine.
Homeopathic remedies like the Bach Flower Essence mix "Rescue Remedy", may also help calm a very anxious dog during training.
Or many find the new "Thundershirts" to be very effective in helping with anxiety. You can find more info on these here.
Crating or confining
Consider crating your dog. Some dogs are more comfortable when confined to a small "den". Make sure your dog can "hold it" for as long as you need him to, and provide plenty of exercise so that his main activity in the crate is sleeping. You might just want to consider leaving your dog in one room (rather than giving him the run of the house), and maybe leaving a radio on and an article of clothing that smells like you in the next room. Warning: Some dogs are a lot less comfortable confined to a crate when alone. Make sure your dog is comfortable and secure before you try crating.
Consider taking your dog to doggie daycare or to a friend's house (or to work or on errands with you), so that he is not actually alone, while you train your dog to deal with being alone. Remember, dogs are pack animals sometimes having a second dog can help. Note that for some dogs who have bonded strongly with people, having another dog (or other pet) around will not be sufficient.
Patricia McConnell's excellent book: I'll Be Home Soon or Nicole Wilde's Don't Leave Me!