HOW TO: Separation Anxiety

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It is pretty common for foster dogs to experience some separation anxiety when left alone.

The severity of the anxiety can range from pacing and whining to much more destructive behavior. A dog may experience separation anxiety simply because he has a very dependent personality, or because she is reacting to a history of abuse or abandonment. Whatever the reason, separation anxiety can be difficult to deal with because you are not around when it happens.

The most common sign that a dog may be suffering from separation anxiety is destructive behavior when left alone. A dog may scratch frantically at the door or make other attempts to get out of the house, or the dog may chew on things or engage in other destructive behaviors.

If you have reason to suspect that your foster dog is suffering from separation anxiety when you are away, consider confining the dog to a crate. If used appropriately, the crate will help the dog feel safe and secure and hopefully relieve some of the anxiety. And, until the separation anxiety itself can be examined and dealt with, a crate will help keep both your home and your foster dog safe.

If you do have the time to work with your foster dog, there are several things you can try to help alleviate separation anxiety. Start out by leaving the dog in your home for very short intervals. Tell the dog to wait and then walk outside for a few minutes before returning.

When you return to the house, praise the dog for waiting. Begin to gradually leave the dog for longer and longer periods of time. It is important that, when you leave, you remain calm and not make a big deal out of leaving. It is also important that you not be too excited when you return. You want to praise the dog, but calmly. You don’t want your return to be such an exciting event that the dog anxiously anticipates the moment of your return. Perhaps the most effective treatment for separation anxiety is time. Be patient. As your foster dog spends more time with you, he will begin to feel more secure in knowing that when you leave, you always come back.

Some destructive behavior that appears to be related to separation anxiety may, in fact, be the product of boredom. Try providing chew toys or other play items that will entertain your foster dog while you are away. One of the more popular toys keeps dogs engaged by making them work for food or treats. Once the toy is filled with some kind of small food item, the dog must work by rolling and tipping the toy until a treat falls out. Most of these products allow you to adjust the level of difficulty, and can keep a dog entertained for significant periods of time.

Don’t forget to make sure that your foster dog gets plenty of exercise. A tired dog is much less likely to engage in behaviors associated with anxiety or boredom.

The List of Dos

Do – Start with short absences and build up the dog gradually as long as he is not stressed.

Do – Exercise your dog regularly and provide lots of enrichment in the form or training, treat dispensing toys and fun things to chew on.

Do – use a reliable daycare, pet sitter or dog walker when you need to be away for any amount of time longer than your dog is comfortable.

Do – speak to your veterinarian and contact a professional trainer if your dog is experiencing signs of stress when left alone.

The List of Don’ts

Don’t – Scold or punish your dog for doing something you don’t approve of while you are out. He is not misbehaving, he is having a panic attack.

Don’t – Use equipment that might be painful or scary for your dog. Equipment such as shock or citronella collars will only mask symptoms of anxiety and can actually increase your dog’s fear.

Don’t – Leave your dog in a crate alone if he hasn’t been thoroughly conditioned to love his crate.

Don’t – leave your dog alone for any longer than he is comfortable. He will not just “get over it” Your dog is scared and needs help.

As a dog guardian, it is your job (a privileged one at that), to help your dog be safe, happy and comfortable. Make sure you follow these guidelines to ensure that.