Saturday, January 25, 2014

Separation Anxiety

As a trainer, I have seen a huge increase in the past 2-3 years in dogs who suffer from 'Separation Anxiety'. The term Separation Anxiety can be simply defined as:

"A condition that occurs when a dog is separated from his handler that manifests itself in stress and fear related behaviours within 30 minutes of the handlers departure."
These dogs, when left on their own, will pace, whine, bark, howl, chew or destroy, vomit/defecate/urinate and/or salivate. 

Anyone who has experienced this type of behaviour will know full well that it is not uncommon to come home to disgruntled neighbours waiting at your front door with your dog wailing and howling excessively, defecation, puddles of urine or vomit, doors open or eaten and whatever furniture was in the same room as the dog was destroyed beyond recognition. I have seen dogs scratch through plaster walls till their feet were bleeding and I have seen a dog that has destroyed a 3 piece suite right down to its wooden frame .

I have been eager in my search to find and pin-point exactly what causes dogs to begin exhibiting such distressing behaviours and have found the root cause of it all to, simply, be the fact that owners spend far too much time in the company of their dogs.

Dogs who suffer from Separation Anxiety, on average, spend 75% or more of the day with their owners and while this does build a very close relationship between the dog and his handler, it unfortunately does not do the dogs ability to be independent any favours whatsoever.

When forming a rehabilitation programme for these kinds of dogs I place a huge emphasis on regularly leaving a dog or puppy on his own for random intervals  throughout the day with you in or out of the house for long and short periods of time, always randomize the length of time you leave them for. If at all possible I highly recommend doing this using a crate 100% of the time.

One must make the crate appealing to the dog as a place of comfort and safety before leaving him in it on his own. I simply begin this process by feeding the dog his daily meals in his crate with the door shut and I will also put a blanket in their or some towels (nothing expensive so if he chews it you will not be too concerned) if you have a dog that does tend to chew and eat whatever he is left alone with then I'd recommend not giving him a bed at all and just making sure the crate is equipped with a metal tray as a base. Give him something to keep his brain occupied as well such as a frozen Kong stuffed with food and make sure there is a bowl of water in there also. I'd also leave a radio on in the same room on low volume if possible and cover his crate with a blanket. The darker a confined space is the safer they feel, covering a budgie cage to quieten him down is a classic example.

You will also feel safer leaving him at home on his own because he cannot damage anything or himself while he's inside the crate.

It is totally understandable that he will cry and wimper the first week you begin this new ritual, but, keep at it and NEVER stop leaving him for random intervals throughout the day. Its always good to keep this sort of thing fresh in his mind.

This method of resolving Separation Anxiety has been tried and tested on well over 20 dogs that I have had recently come to me for rehabilitation for this sort of issue with intensity varying greatly and feel it is one of the most practical ways to assist in resolving this behaviour. 

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