Dealing with separation anxiety

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There’s nothing more heart breaking for an owner to hear the cry of their dog when they leave the house. For others, they may return to find the dog has chewed up their belongings. And, in some serious cases I’ve dealt with, dogs have even self-mutilated themselves due to the stress of being left alone.

So, how can owners overcome separation anxiety?

Well, it’s important to teach any dog that it is OK to be left alone – this starts right from the very moment you bring your dog home – whether that’s from the breeder or rescue centre. Research from The Animal Behaviour Society shows most dogs’ stress response occurs very shortly after the owner’s departure (from zero to 30 minutes).

So, there are a number of things an owner can do to help. Below is an outline of our top tips to help you if your pet is suffering from separation anxiety.

1. The first area to work on is exposing your dog to very short bursts of ‘alone time’. This is called Gesture Leaving. Your dog should only be left alone for very short intervals at first (literally seconds to start with, then build this up to minutes) to ensure your return before the onset of anxiety. Here’s how you practice Gesture Leaving:

  • Start off by leaving the room / hallway (where ever you typically leave the dog and exit) for a couple of seconds before returning and ignoring your dog.
  • Repeat this process over and over again until you build up to a couple of minutes.
  • This process should be done over a period of several days and should be repeated regularly.
  • This technique helps desensitize your dog to your comings and goings.

2. Your arrivals and departures from the house should be as calm and uneventful as possible to avoid over stimulating your dog. Excessive attention before departure and upon return from the owner can, unwittingly, increase the dog’s anxiety during separation.

3. Get your dog used to seeing your ‘getting ready to leave cues’ otherwise known as trigger objects. Items such as keys, jackets, shoes or handbags can often start the onset of anxiety before you’ve even left the house! That’s because your dog has learnt that when these items appear – your next action is to leave. By moving these trigger objects regularly, picking them up and popping them back down, you will help teach your dog that just because he sees these items it does not mean you are leaving. Go through these getting ready to leave actions repeatedly during the time when you are staying home, without actually leaving. If he has already learned to associate his fears with your departure cues, it will take a lot of repetitions before he will get it. This is where patience and consistency is key to your success.

4. If your dog chews when left alone, avoid drawing attention to any ‘forbidden objects’. In other words, don’t straighten up or move around the items that you don’t want the dog to chew. Your dog might misinterpret your attention and give those objects his attention just because it has your fresh scent on the items. Pop anything of value out of reach from your dog. Use an anti-chew spray such as Bitter Apple onto any items you cannot easily put away such as furniture items or skirting boards – any areas where the dog typically chews as the bitter taste will help discourage chewing.

5. The chewing action helps your dog to calm down because it releases the neurochemical serotonin. So, the chewing action becomes rewarding for your dog as it makes him feel better when he chews (a bit like when people chew their nails).You can help your dog by purchasing a DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) plugin to help promote calmness. Speak to your Vet about using a DAP if you are experiencing separation anxiety.

Alternative remedies that may help calm the nerves include; popping Lavender oil under your pet’s collar and placing drops of Dr Bachs Honeysuckle in your pet’s water bowl or on his food.

6. Help your dog get used to short bursts of alone time when you are at home. Often the only times dogs are shut away in a room or have a door closed on them is when we leave the house. So, get your dog used to some ‘forced separation’. This means, as your potter about the house, shut the doors. For example, if you are going to make a cuppa, shut the door behind you. This helps your dog get used to not ‘being your constant shadow’ – and – contributes in building his confidence when he is away from you while you’re still in the house.

7. Music / noise can be calming for dogs. Leave a radio or a television on before you leave the house so there is some background noise for your dog. Think about when you’re at home – typically there is something going on that produces sound. So, noise can be comforting for your pet when alone.

8. Pop an old t-shirt you’ve slept in, into your dog’s bed. Your smell will be comforting to your pet when left alone.

9. Distract your dog from your departure. For example, giving your dog a Kong filled with tasty treats which he has to work at to get to the food, may help distract your dog from your actual departure, enabling you to slip out quickly and quietly.

10. Consider changing your dog’s bed / or area he’s left in. Some dogs quickly build a negative association with where they are left when the owner leaves the house (e.g.) the lounge or even their bed. Changing the area they are left or providing a new bed may help overcome this, in conjunction with all of the above.

If you’re experiencing problems like separation anxiety and would like more help, contact us; hanne@doglistener.tv

 

 

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