Is it Separation Anxiety or Boredom?
Separation anxiety is a serious problem that can create many problems for dogs and their owners.
The first thing you must figure out is whether your dog suffering from separation anxiety or just plain old boredom. Many times boredom is mistaken for separation anxiety.
With genuine separation anxiety, a dog can’t stand to let you out of his sight even when you’re together in the home. He probably follows you from room to room. He may chew on things that have your scent, especially when you’re gone. Your dog may become so stressed by your absence that he will use the bathroom in the house when you’re not there. Your dog will cry, whimper and whine every single time you leave him alone in the house, even if you leave him for periods less than 30 minutes. This can even occur when there are other people in the home. He may ignore them and cry for you. These are signs that your dog may have a genuine psychological problem.
Other behavior is often mistakenly called separation anxiety. When your dog follows you to the door or barks and cries in the house when you first leave, this is sometimes mistaken for separation anxiety. However, this behavior usually subsides almost as soon as the owner is gone. It may be undesirable behavior but it is not true separation anxiety. Your dog may sleep while you’re gone or, in some cases, pursue destruction in the house. Most of the time your dog acts out in destructive ways not because you are gone but because he is bored.
If you feel your dog is suffering from separation anxiety there are a few techniques that may help:
- Start with obedience training. This can give your dog confidence and a job.
- A.P. (Dog Appeasement Pheromone) collar. It comes in different forms but this is a great collar because it stays with the dog.
Start changing your behavior. Examples include:
- When you leave your home, give your dog something that smells like you. An old t-shirt, a pillowcase or a towel you’ve used will all work.
- Be sure not to make a big deal out of departures and arrivals from the home. Ignore your dog for the first few minutes when you get home and the last few minutes before you leave, even if it is difficult.
- Practice “Sit/Stay” and “Down/Stay” as frequently as possible, thereby teaching your dog that you can be in different places and he can still be happy and calm. (There are some previous posts that not only talk about the Sit/Stay and Down/Stay, but also some videos using my handsome dog, Frisbee where I demonstrate how to teach your dog these commands)
- Find the dogs trigger….like grabbing your keys or purse. Do that over and over to desensitize the dog. Do some exercise where you walk outside and then come right back in. We are trying to make the dog realize you are coming back.
- Leave a radio talk show or TV on so it sounds like somebody is home.
If the dog is not responding you should talk to your veterinarian about medication for your pet. One of the medicines used for this problem is Clomicalm. Clomicalm merely "takes the edge off" so your dog can relax.
One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of dogs that suffer from separation anxiety may also have difficulty with a crate. They simply go crazy and try to destroy the crate sometimes hurting themselves. Other dogs with this problem enjoy their crates. I always suggest the plastic airline type crate because it gives more of the den effect.
And to keep your dog from being bored or to distract him/her for a while when you first leave, treat puzzle toys are perfect. Not only do they stimulate your dog's brain but it will keep him/her preoccupied for a while so they won't notice when you first leave. Also, anytime your dog is using his/her brain, it is almost as good as physical exercise. It will make them tired which also might help with that time you're away.
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If you're having trouble with separation anxiety try these tips but if it gets worse or you just aren't able to get it under control, please consult with your veterinarian or a trainer or behavior specialist. This can be treated so both you and your four-legged friend can be at peace.