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How to Effectively Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Updated on January 1, 2016
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Serena has been working as a veterinary technician and receptionist for over 15 years.

Separation Anxiety

Many dogs end up in shelters each year because their owners can't deal with separation anxiety issues. A dog with separation anxiety will display unwanted behaviors when the owner leaves the home. These behaviors may include barking, scratching, chewing, howling and inappropriate elimination. If you're an owner experiencing a dog with this behavior, I have a few tips to help you help your dog overcome it's anxiety issues.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Your dog may have separation anxiety if you come home to find items destroyed, scratch marks on the door, urine or feces on the carpet and the neighbors are complaining about the howling and barking. Your dog will show signs of anxiety as soon as you put on your jacket or pick up the keys to leave. You've already tried putting him in a crate while you're not home, but the crate has either been destroyed or your dog has injured himself trying to escape. You've possibly even come home to find urine and feces in the crate and your dog covered in it.

Treatment

Separation anxiety is a behavioral problem and it's not that uncommon. Many dog owners will make a trip to their veterinarian to find help with this issue. Luckily, there are ways to help your dog cope with the overwhelming anxiety he feels when you leave. Medications are available to help when used in conjunction with behavioral training.

The first step is to help your dog feel "okay" with the fact that you're leaving the house. Start out by putting your coat on or picking up your keys, but not actually going anywhere. This will help desensitize your pet to the "leaving routine." Once he seems to be more comfortable with the fact that the coat goes on or the keys jingle, you're on your way to success. He may even start to ignore those cues.

After he's more comfortable with you picking up your keys, start by leaving the house for very short periods of time. Start out with 15 minutes and slowly build up your trip time. When you arrive home, your dog will probably be overexcited and barking or jumping at you. Ignore him until he calms down. Walk through the door and do your thing. When he's calm, that's the time to praise and pet him.

Eventually you can leave for longer periods of time and come home to a clean house and a calm dog. Remember, this whole process takes time and patience. If used in conjunction with an anxiety reducing medication, you should soon be able to leave the house without worrying about your dog or what you'll arrive home to.


Some tips

  • Purchase a Kong toy or any other toy that makes your dog "work" for a treat. There are many toys out there that the dog needs to push around and work with before a treat is dispensed. Kongs are great and can be filled with his favorite treats or some peanut butter. This helps him keep his mind off of the fact that you've just left.
  • Don't make a big deal out of leaving and coming home. Give him time to calm down before you pay attention to him. Help him understand that leaving isn't bad and coming home isn't so out of the ordinary that he needs to throw a party every time you walk in the door.

Dogs are pack animals and need to be around their owners. This is why separation anxiety is so common in the species. Rather than giving up on your best friend and taking him to a shelter, do your best to help him overcome this behavior. You'll both be happier for it!

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