Separation anxiety happens when a dog that is super-attached to its owner gets stressed when left alone.
For dogs already exhibiting separation anxiety, the treatment can be challenging and requires a lot of patience and time. You will need to get your dog slowly accustomed to your absence and change his negative association with this into a positive association.
Your dog may start to get nervous when he sees signs indicating that you are about to leave, such as getting dressed, putting on your shoes or picking up your keys. This programme involves you doing those things, but then not leaving. Get dressed and go read a book. Put on your shoes and then sit down at the table. Pick up your keys and watch TV. Do this over and over many times a day until your dog gets bored and stops showing anxiety when you do those things.
When your dog starts to feel less anxious about that, you can slowly start to disappear. First, just go to the other side of the door. Ask your dog to stay, then close an inside door between you. Reappear after a few seconds. Slowly increase the amount of time that you are gone. Put on your shoes and pick up your keys. Ask your dog to stay while you go into another room.
As he gets more used to the “stay game,” increase the amount of time you are gone. Then use an outside door, but not the same one you go out of every day. Make sure your dog is relaxed before you leave.
Only you can tell if your dog is ready to be left alone for longer periods. Do not rush things. Give him a stuffed treat when you have built up to ten seconds or so apart so he has something to do and distract his attention away from the fact that you are leaving.
Always make sure that your dog has exciting things to do when you are not with him. You can give your dog a long-lasting chew such as a stuffed Kong toy, a meat-flavoured chew or a treat ball when you plan to go out.
You can also leave a radio or television on so there is background noise to fill the silence and the human voices may comfort him. Leaving clothing that you have worn in his bed may also be a source of comfort as he is near your scent. Always act calm when you leave and when you return.
Gradually build up the time until you can leave the house for a few minutes. Then stay away for longer and longer periods.
If your dog does something naughty while you are out, it is important you do not punish him. Even if you take your dog to the ‘scene of the crime,’ he cannot associate your anger with behaviour he did hours ago. Your dog will simply become more anxious the next time you go out.
Some dog training guides may suggest letting a dog ‘cry it out.’ This technique is neurologically damaging. Dogs and puppies left to cry it out will only learn that being left alone is terrifying. Every time your dog becomes highly distressed, stress hormones occur in the body which can take days to reduce. This can cause negative, long-term effects on your dog’s body and mental state.
Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2023