Stan Rawlinson ( Doglistener) is a Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer who has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with Gundogs then moving on to the behavioural and obedience side of Pet Dogs in 1996. He now has a successful practice covering London, Surrey and Middlesex you can visit his Web Site at www.doglistener.co.uk
Separation anxiety is diagnosed in around 10% of behavioural cases. When left alone, most dogs find a familiar spot and go to sleep. However, a dog suffering from separation anxiety will become extremely anxious. Not understanding where you or your family has gone or if you will ever return, the dog exhibits behavior which may include chewing, barking, salivating, urinating, defecating, vomiting or escape behavior, such as chewing through walls, scratching through doors, busting out of cages or digging under fences if left outdoors and you may end up needing a maid to sort the mess out. In some cases, the dog simply gets sick, perhaps due to some form of depression.
Factors at the root of this disorder include species-specific predispositions, genetics, early learning and owner behavior. Your dog is a social, pack animal that relies on the others for individual protection by safety in numbers. Dogs that lack confidence, due to under socialization, lack of understanding of what is expected (obedience training) or because of mistreatment in the past (abandonment, unusually long confinement etc) are more likely to exhibit behaviours related to separation anxiety.
• 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 five minutes before you go. Paying too much attention will make your dog feel more insecure when the attention is abruptly withdrawn.
• Leave a Distraction
Prepare a “Bye-Bye” bone. Purchase a sterilized; hollow bone from the pet store or a Kong. Fill it with goodies such as cheese, 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. When you arrive home, poke the goodies left in the bone out so your dog gets them. Then put the bone away. The bone only comes out when you leave. We are attempting to distract your dog with something that he will find interesting enough to concentrate on your leaving. 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.
• Confine Your Dog When You Are Away
Confining your dog during your times of absence has two positive results. First, a dog who is confined to a carrier or crate cannot do damage to your home. Secondly, a crate, when properly introduced, will act as a safe, comfortable den where the dog can relax. Limiting his movement also acts as an anxiety reducer for most dogs.
• Exercise Your Dog
A dog that is lacking exercise is more likely to have stress and tension. Tiring a dog out with a long walk, run or with play goes a long way in reducing stress.
• Leave the Radio On
Tune a radio to a talk station; put it on in a room you are often in but not in the same room as the dog, the bedroom is usually a good choice, and close the door. The dog will hear the human voices from your room and may not feel so alone. I have had some clients tape record their own voices and play the recording in place of the radio program. Dogs know the sound of your voice all too well. And remember, since the dog is most anxious just after you leave, a one-hour recording will most probably do.
• Practice This Training Routine
With most dogs, the hardest time for them is immediately after you leave. Their anxious (and sometimes destructive) behavior occurs within the first hour after they are left alone. It will be your job to reshape your dog’s behavior through reinforcement training. Leave your dog out of his crate, put your coat on, walk to the door and leave. Come back in immediately. Greet your dog calmly. Tell him to sit. When he does, reinforce this behavior with a food treat he enjoys. Wait a few minutes and then repeat the exercise, this time remaining outside a few seconds longer. Continue practicing leaving and returning over the next few weeks, always remembering to return, greet your dog calmly and command him to sit before offering a treat.
• Establish Your Leadership
When a dog has a strong leader, it has a calming effect on him. He feels safe and taken care of. In the absence of a strong leader, your dog feels obligated to assume that position in the social hierarchy of the family pack. Since a leader must control all that goes on, his inability to control your leaving causes him stress and anxiety. I had cases where dogs will attack owners each morning when they attempted to leave for work. They would exhibit dominant behavior to try to stop the owners from leaving. Obedience training and Alpha Bonding techniques and the Leadership Checklist is normally the best methods of establishing yourself as a strong leader.
Follow the Guidelines in my information sheet re the need for Leadership and the Leadership Checklist. Dogs NEED leaders. They operate on a “pack” system: there are leaders and there are followers. If this system does not exist in a household, often the dog will slip into the leader spot. In their mind, SOMEBODY needs to be the leader. Although many dogs would rather not have that spot, they will still end up there. To dogs, leaders have certain roles, privileges and honours. Leaders are responsible for pack safety. Leaders are responsible for providing food and shelter. Leaders have the best and highest sleeping spots. Leaders decide when the rest of the pack eats, sleeps, eliminates, and plays. Therefore it is logical to assume that you going out will cause the dog stress as he/she believes that they should be protecting you at all times, therefore leadership is primarily the root cause of separation anxiety though it must be said other factors may also play their part.