Separation anxiety is a challenging disorder that can cause stress for pets and their loved one’s alike. While the treatment is complex and impossible to completely list here, I have provided some guidelines below to help if you feel your pet is suffering from separation anxiety.
Reward Calm and Ignore Anxiety
This should be your training credo. Anxious behavior can be pacing, barking, urinating jumping up, and destroying your favorite rug (all those things you want him not to do). It is important to remember these behaviors are not spiteful or a sign of anger, they are signs of anxiety related to feelings of abandonment. Punishing anxious behavior incites more anxiety (and more problems). It will be hard, but ignore your pet when he cries for attention, jumps up on you when you get home, or looks “sad” when you are leaving. Reward you dog when he is sitting quietly with treats or attention. The most important thing is that you are in control of the reward, not your dog. In other words, he gets rewards when he is behaving the way you want and not when he is demanding it.
Plan Your Exit
When it is time to leave, just leave. Do not say “Good bye” to your dog with hugs and kisses. In fact, ignore your dog for 10-30 minutes before you go. Paying too much attention will make your dog feel more anxious when the attention is abruptly with- drawn.
Leave a Distraction
We are attempting to distract your dog with something that he will find interesting enough to concentrate on your leaving. Purchase a plastic/rubber, hollow bone from the pet store. Fill it with goodies such as dried liver pet treats, beef jerky, peanut butter, or other things your dog really likes. Keep it hidden and take it out when you leave each day. Place it near your dog just before you close the door. The bone only comes out when you leave. Hopefully, he will appreciate the bone so much that he will look forward to it coming out in place of getting upset with your leaving. You can also try to leave the radio on. Tune a radio to a talk station; put it on in a room you are often in, the bedroom is usually a good choice, and close the door. Your dog will hear the human voices from your room and may not feel so alone.
With most dogs, the hardest time for them is immediately before and after you leaving. Our goal is to decrease anxiety during these times. Your dog “picks up” on cues that you are leaving from your routine, such as picking up your keys, putting on your coat, etc. Choose one part of your routine to work on at a time. For example, pick up your keys without leaving, if your dog displays anxious behavior, ignore him, and then put the key down. Repeat this until your dog remains calm while you have your keys, then reward with a food treat. Once your dog does not respond to this cue (may take several weeks), start on another one until you and your dog “graduate” to the entire routine, including leaving. Start with short trips and then increase times. Remember to always reinforce calm behavior. Remember to ignore anxious behavior, especially when returning home.
Establish Your Leadership
In the absence of a strong leader, your dog attempts to assume that position of leader of the pack. Since a leader must control all that goes on, his inability to control your leaving causes him stress and anxiety. Obedience training is the best-organized method of establishing yourself as a strong leader.
Exercise Your Dog
A dog that is lacking exercise is more likely to have stress and tension. Treating your dog with a long walk, run or with play goes a long way in reducing stress.
Confine Your Dog when You Are Away?
Confining your dog during your times of absence can have positive effects. First, a dog that is confined to a carrier or crate cannot do damage to your home. Secondly, a crate, when properly introduced, can act as a safe, comfortable den where the dog can relax. However, some dogs with separation anxiety will experience an increased level of frustration and anxiety when confined. Therefore, I do not recommend crate confinement unless the other methods have failed.