Separation Anxiety

March 8, 2009

By Dianna Young

Like a lot of people, you probably thought long and hard before taking the plunge and actually opening up your home to a new canine companion. You wanted to weigh the positives of such a relationship against the possible negatives.

Ultimately, you decided to go for it because running through your mind was the promise of a close friendship; the promise of an enjoyable companion coming into your life to brighten your days and shower you with affection.

Those are valid reasons to purchase or adopt a dog. But now, the reality is not what you expected. You feel like a hostage in your own home. You can’t go away for long — at least not without your dog — because your new friend is liable to go on a rampage in your absence and tear your place apart. Already, your furniture and even your house itself shows evidence of damage.

What’s going on here? Did you just pick a “bad dog?”

Probably not. What’s going on here probably is what dog trainers call “separation anxiety.” The anxiety we’re talking about occurs on the part of the dog, of course, although you probably feel plenty of anxiety of your own by now when you contemplate what you’ll find on your return home. You pet’s separation anxiety can be manifested in a lot of ways, but it usually shows up as nervous, destructive behavior such as chewing on furniture, chewing sheetrock off the wall, sometimes defecating in the house as well.
Obviously, it’s not something you can ignore. And you can’t eliminate the behavior by punishing the dog.

Your goal must be to remove the dog’s opportunity to ruin your home, and a great place to start that is with crate training. The type of crate we’re talking about is the kind that’s made especially for pets. Construction usually is of fiberglass. A hinged wire door controls ingress and egress. Such crates are available at almost any pet store, and you need to obtain one that is an appropriate size for your dog; neither too big nor too small.

You might look at this as a program of tough-love, but in reality it may not be as tough as you think. That is because canines instinctively are a denning animal. Properly trained and socialized to a crate, they do very well in one. People sometimes think that putting a dog in a crate is cruel. But the average dog wouldn’t agree. A crate is his refuge. A dog in a crate usually feels safe from the world (and the world can feel safe from him).

Because a dog that never has used a crate may need some adjustment, you should begin by putting your canine into one for limited periods, say 15 to 20 minutes. The dog is likely to protest at first, but ignore that. You can put some of his toys into the crate with him, although if his anxiety level is too high at first he won’t play with them. When you take him out of the crate, don’t make a fuss over him. You want him to understand that using the crate is a normal activity, as normal as vacuuming a rug or making yourself breakfast.

Start with three or four sessions a day, 15 to 20 minutes each. Gradually increase the level of time, in 10-minute increments, so the dog’s periods in the crate run closer and closer together. Eventually, you will be able to crate your dog before you leave the house and know that he will rest there content — perhaps napping — until you return.

You’ll know you have completed the training when he is comfortable enough to go into the crate on his own to rest or to take a nap.

Dianna Young is a certified, professional dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Camano Island, where she operates Camano Island Kennels Dog Boarding and Training Facility. She can be reached at (360) 387-DOGS or at info@camanoislandkennels.com. Her web site address is http://www.camanoislandkennels.com. Or visit us at facebook.

3 Responses to “Separation Anxiety”
  1. Frank says:

    This is a great post. My little Chihuahua Teddy is having separation anxiety issues my wife and I are trying to work through.

    I think working with a dog to train him through the process is key., Leave the house for a bit to test him, try a webcam to keep an eye from the neighbors house.

    Somethings got to work – until then I’m gonna keep on trying :)

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