Separation Anxiety

Posted by vidamorim
Oct 5, 2009
I have 5 years old, poodle mix toy, Rocky. I walk with him at least 45 minutes everyday and feed him before I leave home. Sometimes, I left the radio on and I left my cat with him in the house. However, he still has separation anxiety. My tenant said that after I leave home, he barks a lot some days. Sometimes you can hear him desperate scratches the door. It is no more often, but he piss and poop in the house when I am out. What should I do?
Posted by LetsPlay
Oct 8, 2009
Hi there,

you will need to be the pack leader, the Alpha dog. That way you remove the burden from him of having to look after you. If he doesn't feel responsible for you anymore he will be able to relax when you are out.
I would suggest reading the Alpha Dog and implementing the steps on being the pack leader.

Let us know how you get on.
Posted by KOPsarah
Oct 11, 2009
Hi vidamorim and thanks for your post,
I agree that alpha training is an important part of correcting unwanted behaviors. Along with this I have included some information on separation anxiety with some other changes for you to implement.

Separation anxiety is an intense fear or dislike of separation (usually from one family member in particular to whom they have become very attached), which often manifests itself as destructive behavior such as chewing, digging, barking, etc while they are apart.

You may find separation anxiety easier to understand if you bear in mind the fact that dogs are pack animals - they’re social by nature. It’s normal for dogs to form intense emotional bonds with their pack. It is normal for a dog to miss bonded pack members when they are away, however some dogs find it exceptionally difficult and these are the ones that develop separation anxiety.

Typical problem behaviors include inappropriate urination or defecation, destruction, excessive barking and whining, hyperactive behaviors like tail-chasing, compulsive behaviors like repetitive licking or self-mutilation (for example, pulling out fur, gnawing at nails and skin), and depression, signified by withdrawal and lethargy.

Here are some guidelines that use training to encourage greater independence.

Training involves a combination of methods, including:

1) desensitizing your departure cues
2) toning down your departures and arrivals
3) staging a series of absences, and
4) establishing a routine

Desensitize Departure Cues

Your anxious dog will sense any act or routine you initiate as you prepare to leave. Putting on shoes and picking up keys are the most common examples. These actions are like triggers for your dog’s uneasiness. You can easily break that association. Simply go through the motions of putting on your shoes, picking up keys (or whatever it is that clues in your dog to your departure) then don’t actually leave. Repeat this act until your actions no longer mean ‘owner leaving’. When your dog stays calm – the desensitizing is complete.

Tone down arrivals and departures
If you give your dog a wildly enthusiastic welcome every time you walk in the door you send the message that, yes, this is a HUGE deal. Extra happy returns will not cure separation anxiety; rather they will make it worse. Resist the urge. Keep things brief and casual. Even ignore your overexcited pet for a few minutes until they regain some degree of composure. Similarly when leaving the house don’t make a big fuss of the dog because you feel guilty leaving. Try giving the dog something it will enjoy such as a toy or chew and then leave calmly without paying the dog much attention.

Stage Exits

You want your dog to be alone and comfortable without you, so stage an exit. Practice leaving him confined to another room in your house for a few minutes while you’re at home - then gradually make your absences longer.

Try this: Walk out, but don’t leave – stay standing just outside the door, listening. If you hear whining, crying, or scratching, gently reprimand. This addresses the behavior right on the spot and helps them see that you don’t really vanish when you walk out the door.

Finally, time is on your side. Dogs will learn that you’re always coming back whether you’re leaving them in the car for a few minutes, or in the house for an afternoon. They will grow in confidence as they grow in maturity.
Establish a routine
If possible try to establish a basic routine for the dog to help reduce its anxiety. Have a time of the day for exercise, feeding, playing together and bed time and try to keep roughly to these times. This will help your anxious dog predict when events important to it will happen and therefore reduce the fear that they may not.

Remember the basics
Remember the basics of keeping your dog happy while your out:

• Physical challenges – as with almost all behavior problems lots of exercise (before you go) will help reduce the symptoms.
• Mental challenges – dogs that don’t have much to keep them occupied while your away are more likely to get anxious about being alone. Try the usual chews, food balls and toys to keep them busy. They like company too. If they’re left inside, put the radio on quietly or play soothing music.
• Visits – if you work long hours, arrange short visits from friends. (The great thing about having a very sweet and very obedient dog is that everyone WANTS to see them). Alternatively hire a dog walker or arrange play dates with friend’s dogs.

I wish you and your dog the happiness of many (calm) departures and (low-key) returns in the future!

All the best,