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Separation Anxiety In Dogs

Mar 2, 2008
Separation anxiety is one of the most common problems that dogs develop. Its an anxiety disorder, and is defined as a state of intense panic brought on by the dogs isolation or separation from her owner. In other words, when you leave for work in the morning, your dog is plunged into a state of nervous anxiety which intensifies extremely quickly. Dogs are social animals they need plenty of company and social interaction to keep them happy and content. No dog likes to be left alone for long stretches of time, but some dogs do a lot worse than others and these are the ones most prone to separation anxiety. There are a number of contributing causes to the condition.

Some breeds are genetically predisposed towards anxiety and insecurity, which is something you should consider when deciding which breed you are going to go for particularly if you are going to be absent for long stretches of time. A few of these breeds include Weimaraners, Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, and Airedales. A significant proportion of dogs from shelters develop separation anxiety. Most of these shelter dogs have undergone significant trauma in their lives they have been abandoned by their previous owners and thus they have little trust that their new found owner.

Dogs that were separated from their mothers and siblings too early have been identified as being especially prone to separation anxiety. Puppies from pet stores are a perfect example of this. They are usually taken from their mothers well before the earliest possible age which is 8 weeks, and confined to a small glass box in the pet store for anywhere between a few weeks to two months. This early weaning, coupled with the lack of exercise and affection while in the pet store, is psychologically traumatic for the dog.

Neglect is the number one cause of sepration anxiety for dogs. If you are absent much more than you are present in your dogs life, separation anxiety is pretty much inevitable. Your dog needs your company, affection, and attention in order to be happy and content. The symptoms of separation anxiety are pretty distinctive. Your dog will usually learn to tell when you are about to leave, she wll hear keys jingling, will see you putting on your outdoor clothes, and will become anxious. She may follow you from room to room, whining, trembling, and crying. Some dogs even become aggressive, in an attempt to stop their owners from leaving.

When you have left, the anxious behavior will rapidly worsen and usually will peak within half an hour. She may bark incessantly, scratch and dig at windows and doors, an attempt to escape from confinement and reunite herself with you, chew inappropriate items, even urinate and defecate inside the house. In extreme cases, she might self mutilate by licking or chewing her skin until its raw, or pulling out fur or will engage in obsessive compulsive behaviors, like spinning and tail chasing.

Upon your return, she will be excessively excited, and will leap around you in a frenzy of delight for a protracted period of time more than the 30 seconds to one minute of a happy, well balanced dog. This extended greeting is a source of some misunderstanding without realizing that such a greeting actually signifies the presence of a psychological disorder, some owners actually encourage their dog to get more and more worked up upon their return by fuelling the dogs excitement, encouraging her to leap around, paying her protracted attention, and so on.

If you are behaving in this way with your dog, please stop. I know its tempting and very easy to do, and it seems harmless after all, she is so happy to see you, what harm can it do to return her attention and affection in equal measure? but in actuality, you are just validating her belief that your return is the high point of the day. So she is as happy as Larry when you return but, when its time for you to leave again, her now exaggerated happiness at your presence is under threat, and she gets even more unhappy when you walk out that door. Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize your dogs tendency towards anxiety. Here is a short list of what to do.

Do exercise the heck out of her. Really wear her out, the longer you expect to be away, the more exercise she should get before you leave. For example, if you are leaving for work in the morning, she will probably be by herself for at least four hours and, if you have got a dog walker to take her out mid day instead of coming back yourself, she will not see you, the person she really cares about for at least nine hours. So she needs a good, vigorous walk fifteen to twenty minutes is the absolute minimum here, before you walk out that door. More is even better.

Distract her from her boredom, loneliness, and anxiety by giving her an attractive alternative to pining, pacing, and whining. All dogs love to chew, why not play on this predisposition? Get a couple of marrowbones from the butcher, bake them in the oven for 20 minutes so they go nice and hard and crunchy and so she can not smear marrow all over your furniture, slice them up into chunks of a few inches long, and give her one about 15 minutes before you leave. It will keep her happy and occupied, and will act as a smokescreen for your departure.

When you leave, put the radio on to a soothing station, classical music is ideal, but any station featuring lots of talk shows is also ideal. Keep the volume quite low, and it will calm her down a bit and give her the feeling that she has got company. If at all possible, supply her with a view. If she can see the world going by, thats the next best thing to being out and about in it.

Acclimatize her to your leaving. Taking things nice and slowly, practice getting ready to go, jingle your keys about, put on your coat, and open the door. Then without leaving sit back down and do not go anywhere. Do this until shes not reacting any more. When there are no reaction, give her a treat and lavish praise for being so brave. Next, practice actually walking out the door and returning immediately, again doing this until there are no reaction. Gradually work up, gradually being the operative word here until you are able to leave the house with no signs of stress from her.

Do not act overtly sympathetic when she is crying. Although it sounds very cold hearted, trying to soothe and comfort your dog by patting her and cooing over her is actually one of the worst things you can do. Its essentially validating her concern. Make sure she can not tell that you feel sorry for her, do not ever say, its ok, good girl when she is upset.
About the Author
Obinna Heche: Los Angeles- California

To find excellent information about Dog Training, Dog Behaviour, Dog Obedience, Dog Food, Dog Health, Grooming and Dog Care and everything that concerns Dog Owners and their Dogs. Visit.. http://puppy-dog-obedience.blogspot.com
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