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 Dog Behavior Library

Separation Anxiety

Some dogs are genetically more relaxed than others. However any dog can exhibit signs of anxiety such as whining, barking, digging, inappropriate elimination or household destruction. Common causes of dog anxiety include separation from the owner, inappropriate punishment, lack of exercise, lack of training, unclear hierarchy, or medical discomfort. Symptoms include trembling, salivating, destruction, inappropriate elimination, and excessive vocalization.

Before beginning behavioral therapy, ask your veterinarian to perform a thorough physical exam, plus blood, urine, and fecal tests to be sure there is no medical problem frustrating your pet. If there is discomfort, your pet can't tell you. If everything checks out OK, your veterinarian might prescribe a mild tranquilizer during the first stages of the behavioral program.

There are several steps that can help any dog maintain a relaxed, confident attitude. For example, a regular feeding and exercise schedule contributes to emotional stability. Try praising not only correct responses to Instructions, but also praise calm relaxed postures. If you must reprimand the dog, don't hit. Instead, use a verbal correction, and immediately redirect into an acceptable behavior (e.g. "Sit" or chewbone).
Remember to praise a positive response to any Instruction.

Once any negative behaviors are corrected, you can gradually allow more time together when home. These simple techniques can make your dog a happy, relaxed member of your family.

Be certain the dog sees you as a consistent and reliable pack leader. Begin by requiring your dog to perform Instructions before giving food or attention. Over time, teach your dog to accept a total body massage. Insist he wait and allow you to lead through doorways and on walks.

Most destructive behavior and excessive vocalization occurs shortly after the owner leaves the dog. Therefore, make your departures very calm, and pay no special attention to the dog. Try varying your schedule, and coming and going for short periods of time. If Separation Anxiety is present, ignore the dog when you come home, until he calms down, then require him to sit, before giving a calm greeting.

If your dog is especially affectionate, you may need to insist on some separation when you are home to reduce the intensity of the dog missing you when you are gone. For example, dogs with anxiety problems should not be allowed on furniture with you, or in your bed,. However, being crated, tethered or on a long down stay nearby is fine. Avoid extended physical contact such as laying while touching you. Praise quiet resting, and ignore whining or other vocalization.

Another useful tool for an anxious dog, is to teach him to chew on a rawhide, sterilized or nylon bone, or even a cow hoof or pig's ear. Try several, and if none are appealing, rub a little peanut butter or liverwurst on the chew. Don't give any chew that could be swallowed whole, and allow the chew for short periods at first. Try ignoring the dog unless it has the chew in its mouth, and praise any correct chewing. Once the dog associates your attention with chewing on an appropriate toy, he may chew when he misses you, instead of vocalizing or destroying objects. Give the chew just before leaving.

For food motivated dogs, you can put some kibbles inside a food puzzle such as a "Buster Cube" or "Kong" toy which periodically dispense a small bit of food.

If the problem is quite severe, consider using a crate to wean the dog from your attention. Introduce the crate as the dog's own bedroom and favorite place in the world. Feed the dog there and provide a comfortable dog bed inside. When you are home, ignore the dog unless he is inside the crate or if close tethered. Then praise lavishly and even give a food treat. Provide the favorite chew toy in the crate or when the dog is close tethered on a mat..

Once the dog is comfortable being crated or close tethered, begin to spread out your praise. Praise every few seconds at first, then gradually increase the interval between praises. Each session, let the dog out of the crate after at least 5 seconds of quiet; not when whining or barking. Once the dog can be left in the crate or close tethered without stressing, try  close tethering or putting the crate in another room. 

The key is for the dog to get more attention from you when inside the crate or when close tethered than when touching you. 

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