Separation anxiety is among the most basic problems that dogs can develop. It's an anxiety disorder, and is defined as a state of acute panic induced by the dog's isolation and detachment from his or her owner.
This means that when you leave for work in the morning, your dog is engulfed in a state of nervous anxiety which escalates extremely quickly.
Dogs are sociable animals - they require a good deal of companionship and social interaction to keep them happy and content. No dog likes to be left unaccompanied for long stretches of time, but some dogs respond worse than others: these are the ones most prone to separation anxiety.
There are quite a number of contributing causes to the condition:
Some dog breeds are genetically predisposed towards anxiety and insecurity, which is something you should think about when determining which breed you're going to choose especially if you're going to be away for long stretches of time. Some of these breeds include Weimaraners, Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, and Airedales
Some dogs from shelters develop separation anxiety. Many of these have experienced significant trauma in their lives. They've been deserted by their former owners - and so they have little confidence that their new-found owner, you isn't going to do the same.
Dogs that were split up from their mothers and siblings too too soon have been identified as being particularly prone to separation anxiety. Puppies from pet-stores are a good example of this: they're generally taken away from their mothers well before the earliest possible age, which is 8 weeks, and imprisoned in a small compartment in the petstore for anywhere between a few weeks to two months. This early weaning, as well as the lack of exercise and affection while in the petstore, is psychologically traumatic for the dog.
Neglect is the main cause of sepration anxiety in dogs. If you're away much more than you're present in your dog's life, separation anxiety is practically inevitable. Your dog needs your companionship, affection, and care in order to be happy and content.
The symptoms of separation anxiety are pretty distinctive: your dog will normally learn to tell when you're about to go out and will become anxious. She may follow you from room to room, whining, trembling, and crying. Some dogs even become aggressive, in an effort to stop their owners from departing.
After you've left, the anxious behavior will quickly exacerbate and generally will peak within half an hour. She may bark continuously, scratch and dig at windows and doors in an effort to break loose from confinement and reunite herself with you, chew inappropriate items, even urinate and defecate inside the house.
In extreme cases, she might self-mutilate by licking or chewing her skin until it's raw, or pulling out fur; or will engage in obsessive-compulsive behaviors, like spinning and tail-chasing.
When you come home, she'll be overly agitated, and will bounce around you in a frenzy of pleasure for a lengthy period of time.
This drawn-out greeting is a source of some misunderstanding: without recognising that such a greeting in reality signifies the presence of a psychological disorder, some owners actually encourage their dog to get more and more agitated upon their return by fuelling the dog's excitement, encouraging her to bounce around, paying her prolonged attention, and so forth.
If you are acting in this way with your dog, please stop. I know it's tempting and very easy to do, and it appears harmless - after all, she's so happy to see you, what harm can it do to return her attention and affection in equal measure? - but you're just confirming her impression that your return home is the high point of the day.
So she's as happy as Larry when you get back - but, when it's time for you to go out again, her now-exaggerated happiness at your presence is under threat, and she becomes even more distressed when you leave.
Luckily, there are things you are able to do to minimize your dog's inclination towards anxiety. Here's a short list of do's and don'ts:
Exercise the heck out of her. Genuinely wear her out: the longer you anticipate to be away, the more exercise she should get before you leave. For instance, if you're leaving for work in the morning, she'll probably be by herself for at least four hours; and, if you've got a dog-walker to take her out mid-day rather than coming back yourself, she won't see you - the individual she really cares about - for at least nine hours. So she needs a good, vigorous walk before you go.
Distract her from her tedium, desolation, and anxiety by giving her an attractive option to pining, pacing, and whining. All dogs love to chew. Get a couple of marrowbones, bake them in the oven for 20 minutes so they go hard and crunchy, cut them up into chunks of a few inches long, and give her one about 15 minutes before you go out. It'll keep her happy and absorbed, and will act as a distraction for when you depart.
When you leave, put the radio or T.V. on to a soothing station: classical music is ideal, but any station featuring lots of talk shows is also ideal. Keep the volume quite low, and it'll settle her down a bit and establish the notion that she's got company.
If it is possible, provide her with a view: if she can see the world going by, that's the next best thing to being out and about in it.
Acclimatize her to your departure. Taking things nice and slowly, practice getting ready to go: jingle your keys about, put on your coat, and open the door. Then - without leaving - sit back down. Do this until she's not reacting any longer.
When there's no response, give her a treat and lavish praise for being so brave. Then, practice actually walking out of the door and going back immediately, again doing this until there's no reaction. Bit by bit work up until you're able to leave the house with no signs of stress from her.
Behave overtly sympathetic when she's crying. Whilst it sounds very cold-hearted, trying to console and comfort your dog by patting her and cooing over her is really one of the worst things you can do: it's fundamentally verifying her concern. Make certain she can't tell that you feel sorry for her: Don't ever say, "It's OK, good girl" when she's upset.
If you're interested in getting a more elaborate view on how to deal with your dog's separation anxiety, you might like to check out Secrets to Dog Training Program.
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