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Preventing Separation Anxiety (We hope this helps you!)

 

One of the main reasons people acquire a dog is for companionship. Like us dogs are able to form strong bonds with people. One could argue that dogs are even more social than we are. Due to their instincts they are more motivated than humans to stay with their social group (it’s a matter of survival for them). Separation from their group is usually followed by behaviors that will help them reunite such as vocalizations (barking, whining), increased activity (destruction of your home, urination & defecation due to increased stress), digging & chewing (to escape to find the group) etc. Of course these natural and normal behaviors cause problems in our homes. Dogs are a social species and not genetically programmed to be alone much. But with our busy day-to-day schedules it’s no wonder there are so many dogs with separation issues. Because it doesn’t come naturally to them, dogs can be and should be TAUGHT how to be alone. 

 

 

The following are tips to help teach your new puppy, new dog or even the dog you’ve had for years how to better cope with being alone.

 

It’s not uncommon for me to see clients get a new puppy or dog right before a long weekend or take a vacation from work so that they can spend lots of time with their new arrival. They stay home and spend every waking moment with the new family member, setting him/her up for failure when real life starts after the vacation or long weekend. So, even if you’re home, leave the new one for a brief period of time several times a day every day. Leave him/her in a crate (with toys) or in a dog proof area of the home. Be sure to exercise him/her first (a tired dog is a well behaved dog).

 

 

Remember that it’s normal for dogs, especially puppies, to bark, whine or howl when you leave. It’s extremely important that you do not reinforce this behavior; the reinforcement in this case is your return (attention). Do not punish your dog, punishment may stop the behavior temporarily but it will rarely get rid of it (it’s still attention). If you don’t want the noise, don’t respond to it. Wait until the dog/puppy is quiet (yes that may take a while) and then go to him/her thus rewarding the quiet behavior. 

 

 

Be sure to come and go without making a huge deal of it - no gushy hellos and goodbyes – as this will only increase the difference between when your home and when you’re not. We want alone time to be ok and fun, not have him/her waiting anxiously for your return. Having an emotional goodbye will only increase your dog’s anxious feeling. Instead involve toys into your greetings and departures to help reduce dependence on you. Not only is it important to keep your dog physically fit but also mentally, using different toys and experiences. Be sure your dog gets out of the house and yard often. Go for walks so that he can smell and experience new places, this helps tire him out mentally and physically. 

If you must be gone for really long periods of time daily, consider a doggie day care or have a professional pet sitter take your dog for a walk to help break up the day. If you can before you leave in the morning, go for a walk or play a quick game of fetch, but be sure to leave enough time to ignore him/her before you leave (1/2 hour to 1 hour before departure). We used to believe that dogs needed lots of space to be happy - life on the farm so to speak. But today we know better. If you give a dog a choice, almost all of them would choose time with people over a year of field. 

Try to avoid giving him/her attention on demand. When a dog gets what it wants every time it nudges or whines, it is more likely to be anxious when it’s alone and can’t get the social attention it wants.  You can give your dog attention, but it should be on your terms not his/hers. Give no rewards (attention) when he/she demands it or follows you around the house. Give rewards for down stays or when the dog is relaxing or with a toy in another area of the house away from you. This helps to remove the reinforcement for following and over attachment to you and gives reinforcement for independence instead.

 

Thank you 

Dodie Manor

Behavior Consultant

Oakwood Hills Animal Hospital      

 

I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.  -Gilda Radner