Dog Separation Anxiety And Prevention
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Dog Separation Anxiety And Prevention

Have you ever returned home to find the curtains torn, the sofa pillows shredded, or a little “surprise” in the family room? This can be a result of something called dog separation anxiety. I have been through this problem before with my own dogs, and I am not going to lie; it was a mess and I spent quite a deal of time replacing what was broken and scrubbing my carpet clean, hoping and praying no one will ever notice the stain! Take it from me, if you and your dog are suffering from the same pain and frustration as me and my dogs did; fix it RIGHT NOW! PREVENT THE DISASTER! Separation anxiety is a serious problem for dogs, and needs to be fixed using proper care and techniques.

What actually causes dog separation anxiety?

Each case may be different and sometimes it is not easy to pinpoint the problem. Try first to think about the situation from your dog’s perspective. Dogs are social animals, your companion, and it is for this reason that they can live in symbiosis with you. When you prepare to leave the house without him, he recognizes certain actions and knows that he will soon be alone. Actions like getting the keys, putting on your coat or shoes, can trigger abnormal behavior from a dog with separation anxiety. Dog separation anxiety behavior can include barking, excessive salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, panic attacks, self-mutilation, urination, and chewing objects other than his toys. This behavior can stem from certain emotional states that trigger the need to “do something” (bark, destroy, urinate, etc.). This includes frustration, anxiety of not knowing when you will return, or even in some instances fear. You leaving the house and being out of his sight for hours and hours can be a real traumatic event for your dog. Or during a heavy rainstorm, if your dog is home alone, he can experience a state of intense anxiety that can trigger the behavior I mentioned earlier. As a result, the dog will associate your absence to a traumatic event and then go into a state of anxiety.

Solutions to dog separation anxiety!

Treating separation anxiety can seem daunting, but I assure you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! Every dog is different and some may be more severe than others. However, the process of treatment is similar. These are some of the things I did with my own dogs.

The crate or kennel

The NUMBER ONE RULE to abide by is to make sure that your dog feels SAFE, even when he is away from you. To do this, you need to create a comfortable environment for your dog to be in when you are home and also when you are away. I highly recommend using a crate or kennel.

You should always have a crate or kennel (large enough so that he can fully turn around in without being too difficult) available for him to go into, along with a blanket or sufficient cushioning lining the bottom. This provides a place that is enclosed and gives him a sense of safety. Start by leaving him inside the kennel for 30 minutes a day when you are home. Make sure that in the beginning, he can see you. This helps him get used to the kennel and lets him know that it is a safe place. Please note, do not leave your dog in the kennel for extreme lengths of time. The crate is a safe place to go to once in a while, not a home in of itself!

In addition to providing a safe environment, it can also protect them from hurting themselves. Trust me, coming home to find out your dog cut himself on something he destroyed due to his anxiety is heart breaking. Please, I beg you, DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN to you or your wonderful dog. If your dog has separation anxiety and he is destroying the curtains or knocking things over, he is bound to hurt himself one time or another. If he is in his kennel, he can’t really get into too much trouble! As crate training is one thing in of itself, I personally think that it is a great and safe alternative to ensuring your dog isn’t going to destroy your house nor hurt himself.

If you are unsure of how to use the crate properly, it never hurts to talk to your local veterinarian about appropriate crate use.

Exercise

Even before you leave the house, make sure your dog has already had plenty of exercise. A nice walk will help relax your dog (as well as you!). So, when you leave, he does not have excess energy to use destroying your curtains and pillows! Exercise, exercise, exercise! As a side note, make sure you also have plenty of fresh water available at all times. Clean water is always important!

Distractions….can be a good thing for once!

Usually distractions are a bad thing, but for dog separation anxiety it can help immensely! By giving your dog something to focus on other than you leaving is a great way to help relieve some anxiety. Also, because boredom can cause or intensify your dog separation anxiety, having something to play with or chew on can be very helpful. I absolutely LOVE using Kongs. Put some peanut butter (what dog can resist peanut butter!) into any kong shape that you have, and it will for sure keep him busy for a while! It is great too, because they come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors so that you can find one appropriate for your dog. They are very durable, even for the worst and strongest chewers! It is safe to leave a kong inside the kennel for your four legged friend to chew on while you are away. And, if you are anything like me, you will be very happy to know that they are very affordable! If you are interested, you can find and read more about kongs here.

PLEASE NOTE! As rawhides are great chew things as well, it is not safe to give them to your dog when he is in the crate while you are away. This is because little pieces can break off and he may choke on the pieces. I suggest instead, kongs as a safe and fun alternative.

Now, I know it may sound silly to some of you, but dogs can love MUSIC just as much as you. In fact, music can be very therapeutic for dogs (even us too!). I actually came across this idea from a fellow colleague of mine who used music for his dogs when they were puppies to help them relax and calm themselves. He used something called Canine Lullabies (I know some of you are laughing at the name right now!). Before you knock it, have a look for yourself. It could potentially help your dog! Click here to see the product

Leaving and returning home without the fuss

When you need to leave the house, place him in the kennel and try not to make a big fuss of you leaving. Saying things in a high pitched tone, such as, “Oh I’m gonna miss you”, “Be good ok?”…etc, is NOT a good idea. You are creating an excited emotional state and therefore when you leave, the dog will most likely not be calm and this can cause of course the problems to begin. This also goes for when you return home. Remove your jacket and shoes and then say hello. This gives him a sense that coming and going is nothing to get anxious about.

YOUR behavior

This next step is all about YOU! You cannot cater to every bark you hear when you are leaving the house. If you leave the house and he starts crying, just ignore this unwanted behavior. Because, if you keep coming back every time he cries, then you are essentially rewarding his barking behavior. To him, he thinks, “Every time I bark, they come back. So I should just keep barking!” Only good behavior should be rewarded! This may be difficult but is necessary to help your four-legged friend be able to live without you!

Another remedy!

Thundershirts are great remedies to prevent dog separation anxiety. Basically, it is a jacket of sorts that they wear that provides constant pressure. This has an effect on the nervous system and really just has a calming effect. They are a little on the expensive side, around $40 or so, but can be worth it, if other treatments aren’t working. Also, they are made VERY WELL and are durable (I never buy anything that falls apart, so this is important for me). I purchased one for one of my dogs who had problems with thunderstorms. The poor thing always shook like crazy. This jacket was his SECURITY BLANKET! Anyway, it can also be used for separation anxiety because it calms the brain and body; similar to a hug if you think about it. People hug to greet and also if someone needs to be consoled. The pressure (and also the touch) is calming. You can think of it as a similar idea to what the thundershirt does. They can be worn for extended periods of time (if needed) but you should check to see every once in a while if there is any rubbing that is causing any sort of irritation. Anyway, you should take a look and tell me what you think! You can read more about them here.

Talk to your local vet if you have concerns about your dog separation anxiety. Don’t worry! The task is not impossible and with time, you and your dog CAN live in harmony (without the house being destroyed)!

A good read!

As this is merely just an introduction to understanding and treating separation anxiety, I strongly recommend reading Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Milan. I recommend this to anyone who is thinking about adopting a dog or someone who has been a dog owner their whole life. There is always something new to learn regardless of your experience or age. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book for it gives clear as day examples of common problems (as the title suggests!) and clear instructions on how to solve these issues. He explains why these problems occur and how YOUR behavior makes all the difference in the world. I must admit though, the beginning of the book, Cesar talks quite a lot about his special abilities to communicate with dogs. I would say that the beginning provides an interesting story per say on his life and reads somewhat like a biography in the beginning. However, if you are not familiar with him and his work with dogs, it can be quite interesting. The rest of the book, I found quite informative and not at all difficult to follow or understand.


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