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Unread 12-28-2006, 12:09 PM   #1
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Default How to: Ease separation anxiety in dogs

Separation anxiety in dogs is one of the most common behavioural problems most owners will encounter. It can manifest itself in many different ways and many different forms.

One of the most common is destructive behaviour when a dog is left alone for short to long periods of time. You have gone to work and have come home to find your couch has been destroyed and Fido is covered in stuffing. Your first question is: Why? Why would he do this? Your first reaction is most likely to be punishment, this is a problem in itself. Punishment is directed at the problem but fails to actually address the problem, it may cause the dog to be come more anxious and this in turn can crop up new behavioural problems in the long run.

Barking and whining are also signs of separation anxiety as well as urinating and defecating in uacceptable locations. Alot of dogs will be come very excited when the owner arrives home. A dog that chews on oneself is also showing signs of anxiety.

Treating this can be relatively simply. Presently, the most accepted method for treating separation anxiety involves planned departures. This method involves gradually adjusting the dog to being alone by exposure to many short departures. Because the stress response occurs very shortly after the owner's departure (within 30 minutes), the dog should only be left alone for very short intervals at first (seconds to minutes) to ensure the owner returns before the onset of anxiety. Before the departure period can be increased, the owner must be certain that the dog is not stressed. The owner must closely watch the dog for signs of anxiety and ensure that the dog does not engage in an extended greeting. After the short departures have reached the 30 minute mark, the length of time the dog is left can be increased by larger increments. Once the dog can be left alone for 1.5 hours, it can usually be left all day. Departure and return should be made as quiet and uneventful as possible to avoid overstimulating the dog. The dog should not be given attention prior to departures nor given attention and praise upon returns. Excessive attention prior to departure and upon return seem to increase the anxiety during separation and it does NOT make it easier on the dog as most people suspect. Safety cues may also be used to associate with the short departures (Voith and Borchelt 1985). The T.V. or radio can be left on or an acceptable chew toy may be provided for the dog. However, it is very important that the safety cue is not an item that the dog already associates with anxiety. These cues help the dog relate to a previous safe period of isolation.


There are medications available but this only helps in the short term and should only be used for dogs with severe anxiety. It is better to teach them they will be OK rather then mask the problem.

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Unread 12-28-2006, 12:10 PM   #2
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This is an article that was published by the SPCA:


Preventing or Reducing Anxiety when left alone

RECOGNIZING THE PROBLEM

Dogs form strong bonds with animals and people with whom they live. Most dogs can cope with separation from family members for a few hours. Some feel anxious, stressed even panicked when left even for a few minutes. It is one of the most common behavioural problems among shelter dogs.

Some dogs are predisposed to separation anxiety because of their personality. These dogs are anxious in a variety of situations and not just when left alone. Some become anxious when left alone following an event they found frightening while you were away (a sudden change in your schedule, a severe thunderstorm, loud construction noise, a robbery or other unusual event). Some dogs have never learned to be alone when they were puppies and find it frightening. Dogs that have experienced the trauma of being abandoned or left at a shelter are even more likely to suffer from separation anxiety.

When dogs feel anxious in your absence, they may:

Urinate when you come home;

Vocalize when left alone; whining, barking or howling;

Be destructive when left alone;

Attempt escape, scratching or chewing at exits;

May show signs of stress with lack of appetite, restlessness, panting, excessive drinking, urination & defecation indoors.

Training options

While undergoing treatment it is best not to leave your dog alone in the place he usually feels anxious.

Consider these options:

Take your dog to work. You may leave him in the car, if the weather is cool. Walk him frequently and have water available in a spill proof bowl.

Leave him with a sitter or at doggie daycare.

Have someone stay at home.

Do not muzzle, crate (without reducing stress and slowly getting them used to the crate), tether or otherwise restrict your dog to deal with this problem. This may keep him from being destructive or vocalizing but it will make anxiety worse. The dog may become more anxious, self-mutilate or may develop a stress related sickness.

The Hangout Exercise: Learning to be alone without stress

Before you start:

Buy a few special toys to be used only when doing the “hangout“ exercise.

Buy a product called 'Dog Appeasing Pheromone' on the Internet or from your veterinarian.

Figure out which room in the house your dog is most relaxed. Place his bed there. Remove all destructible items and plug in the Dog Appeasing Pheromones diffuser.

Make a list of all the cues that normally make your dog anxious such as putting on your work clothes, or picking up your keys.

Step 1: The hangout exercise

This first step should not be done on a work day. Do not do any of the cues that normally stress your dogs. Your departure from the room must be as matter-of-fact and casual as possible.

After a nice walk, take the dog to his favourite room. Give him the special going away toy and wait until he settles down with the toy.

Say “hangout” and casually leave the room for a few seconds. Leave the door open.

* If the dog gets up and follows, you may need to start by going to the other side of the room and ignoring him for a few seconds.

Come back in, wait a few seconds, say “good hangout” and give him a pat.

You may now take the “hangout toy.”

Repeat the hangout exercise until you are able to leave the room for about 10 minutes with the door closed and still have a relaxed dog when you enter the room.

Step 2: The hangout exercise

Once the dog can be relaxed in his room with the door closed while you are in a different part of the house, it is time for step 2. Do not do this exercise on a work day and do not pick up your keys, put on your coat or shoes when leaving the house.

Begin the “hangout exercise” but this time leave the house for a few seconds.
Slowly increase to 30 minutes.

Step 3: Adding some cues

Once the dog can be relaxed in his room with the door closed while you are out of the house for 30 minutes, it is time for step 3.

You can now add the cues that normally stress your dog while repeating step 1 of the hangout exercise. Add one cue at a time and keep the alone time to a few seconds. Picking up your keys and putting them in your pocket is a good one to start.

Once you are able to add all the cues and your dog remains relaxed with the door closed while you are busy in another part of the house, it is time to repeat step 2 using the cue that normally causes him stress.

Slowly increase hangout time until your dog can spend four hours alone.

If your dog gets anxious when you add the cues, you may need to practice picking up your keys, coat and shoes but without leaving the house. You may also need to slow down the process

veterinary help

Dogs that do not respond to behaviour modification alone or with Dog Appeasing Pheromone may also need drug therapy. Ask your veterinarian about Clomicalm(R). It is a drug designed especially for dogs with separation anxiety to help them through behavioural therapy.

cautions/remember

Some dogs that chew, destroy property or vocalize when left alone or get overly excited and pee when you return, are simply excitable dogs that get bored during your absence. If your dog truly has separation anxiety when left alone you will notice the stress symptoms as you are getting ready to leave.

Dogs that are bored need more interesting things to do while dogs that are anxious need to learn slowly that alone can be OK and even fun.

Do not muzzle, crate (without reducing stress and gradual introduction), tether or otherwise restrict your dog to deal with this problem. This may keep him from being destructive or vocalizing but it will make anxiety worse. The dog may become more anxious, self-mutilate or may develop a stress related sickness.

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Unread 12-28-2006, 02:34 PM   #3
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This is helpful thanks - am jsut gradually leaving my 5 month old puppy alone bit by bit ready for when we go back to work. Glad to see i am following the guidance Ok so far.

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Unread 01-04-2007, 04:05 PM   #4
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at the moment i am lucky to get a bath without Misty whimpering, getting better gradually though.

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Unread 01-04-2007, 04:24 PM   #5
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Dobermans you have posted some very wise words there. How many times do I see advice given to dog owners to crate, put bitter apple on whatver the dog has been chewing etc etc. That only treats the symptom but not the root cause.
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Unread 01-04-2007, 04:29 PM   #6
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Stu how cute is that photo!

Well I have been introducing Jake gently to longer periods and now i am back at work he seems OK.

Whilst he obviously doesn't love being alone he doesn't appear to hate it either, he is sleeping or playing when my neighbour goes to check in on him for me throughout the day.

Husband is always home at lunch on a Friday so it is only 4 days when it is longer than ideal he is alone.

His 2 long walks a day and lots of playing seem to make up for it in his eyes.

If he changes then he will have to have a doggy sitter but seems OK so far.

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Unread 01-21-2007, 12:16 AM   #7
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That info is vey helpful thanx
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Unread 01-21-2007, 09:48 PM   #8
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Thanks for some good ideas. Koko, my rescue, doesn't care that other people are home with her. When I leave she sits at the door and barks for me, or if I crate her she barked there as well, although her foster Mom said she would quiet if told. She doesn't play with toys and isn't very treat driven as well.

We are going to play "hangout with Grandma" as my Mom lives with us. Max will always go to Mom's quarters and check her bed and then go to her living room and get in her chair and wait for her. (This is the only time that little stinker will jump on the furniture!! I can't even get him to jump on my lap.)
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Unread 01-22-2007, 04:02 PM   #9
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Kip has some problems with me leaving to go to the store, or take out the trash, justifiable since he was abaondoned. But he doesn't show severe signs of anxiety, good info though.

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Unread 01-23-2007, 01:01 PM   #10
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Good News. Massive improvement in her behaviour since taking a bit of your advice and tweaking it a little to suit my situation.

Thanks all!

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