How to Save Your Dog-and Your Home-from Separation Anxiety

When you adopt dogs from the shelter, they oftentimes have a fear of being abandoned, because that is what happened in the first place. This fear can create the feeling that they may be abandoned again, by their new owners, causing separation anxiety when they are left alone in their new home.

The symptoms of separation anxiety are fairly obvious. They usually include chewing, digging or scratching in order to escape and get back to their owners. Other symptoms include additional destructive or “punishing” behaviors, relieving themselves in the home as a result of anxiety, and frantic greeting behavior when the owner returns, such as excessive jumping and barking.

A good way to deal with this anxiety is through repetitive conditioning, which is basically the idea of getting the dog used to the idea of you leaving-and the fact that you will always be coming back.

You should start this process on a weekend, or another time where you will have a lot of time to spend working with your dog. Make sure that any other household members are involved as well.

Where you start in the process depends on when your dog’s anxiety begins. Is it when you start looking for your coat, when grab your car keys, when head for the door? It should be fairly obvious. Just look to see when your dog starts watching what you are doing very closely.

Use that first stressor as your starting point. (For example, lets say it is picking up your keys.) Start out by standing up and picking up your keys. When your dog shows the first sign of anxiety, sit back down. Repeat this several times (it may take 5, it may take 35, depending on the dog) until your dog shows no anxiety in regards to this task.

Once your dog can tolerate the key ritual, try picking up your keys and putting on your coat, then sitting back down. Then try picking up your keys, putting on your coat and walking to the door, and so on. Eventually, after enough repetition of the gradually increasing tasks, you should be able to leave the house for a short period of time and come back to a relaxed pooch. You can lengthen this amount of time in increments, eventually working up to your usual amount of absence (such as the length of your workday).

Additional Tips
�If your dog is a frantic greeter, make sure to IGNORE him when you return from an outing, at least for a good 5 or 10 minutes. Sure it will be hard to avoid the puppy-dog eyes, but it is for his own good. If you pay attention to the frantic behavior-which is what the dog wants more than anything, he will feel as if he is being rewarded for acting this way.

�Leave the music or TV on when you go out or purchase an active toy such as a Kong to distract your dog while you are away.

�Make sure your dog gets enough exercise. A tired dog is a less-stressed dog.

âÂ?¢Consider using a “code word” when you leave the house, such as “I’ll be back” and have all other household members do the same. Believe it or not, this is very reassuring to the dog. Do this every time you leave the house, even if it is for just a few minutes. This phrase triggers the idea that you will be returning. Believe me; it works!

This process will probably take about a month or so, so don’t get discouraged if there are no instant results. It takes a while to unlearn what you have taught yourself to be true, whether you are a human or a canine. Good luck!

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