Separation anxiety is a common behaviour problem in some dogs.
As dogs are pack animals, they do not like to be left alone. They exhibit anxiety by:
- barking, howling and crying
- salivating, urinating and defecating (despite being housetrained)
- engaging in destructive behaviours such as chewing through wall, scratching doors, destroying carpets, books or pillows
- refusing to eat or sleep
Factors that contribute to separation anxiety include:
- strong dependance or attachment to you
- lack of confidence
- change in the family environment (such as moving home, death or loss of a family member or change to work schedule)
- abandonment in the past
Here are some tips to deal with anxiety in your dog:
Desensitising your dog to your goings and comings
Many owners make the mistake of leaving their dogs with hugs and kisses. Despite your good intention to reassure your dog, you are only reinforcing his fear of being away from you. Don't make a big fuss when leaving. That means no saying goodbye, kissing or cuddling him. Just ignore him.
Practise the routine of picking up keys, putting on your shoes or jacket but not actually leave. Follow by putting down your keys, taking off your shoes or jacket. Reward your dog when he sits calmly to reinforce good behaviour. Repeat this actions until your dog is no longer anxious to your getting ready to leave.
Then, practise being apart from your dog. Begin with short absences. For your first absence, walk out of the door, close it and return immediately. Remember not to make a big deal about leaving and coming back. Reward him if he sits calmly.
When your dog shows no distress, lengthen your absences gradually. Don't stay away from your dog for too long until he becomes upset. Repeat as many absences as possible until he is comfortable with you being gone for a reasonable amount of time.
Be patient and consistent as it is likely to be difficult in the beginning. It should get easier, depending on the severity of your dog's anxiety.
Keep your dog occupied
Give him a kong toy or hollow bone filled with his favourite treats. Alternatively, hide several chew treats around the house to keep him busy hunting for them. He is less likely to dwell on your absence when distracted.
These "distractions" should best be given to him when you leave and put away when you return.
Make sure your dog gets plenty of physical and mental exercise. You are more likely to have a well-behaved, healthy and happy dog. Bring him for a long walk, a run or play with him. In addition to obedience and behaviour training, teach your dog new tricks. He enjoys learning them if you praise or reward him with his favourite treats. Exercise can also help to relieve tension and overcome boredom in your dog, thereby preventing most behaviour problems.
Consider crating your dog if it is crate-trained. A crate acts as a safe, comfortable den where he can rest. Confining him to a crate will prevent him from damaging your property.
Leave the radio or tv on
It might help to leave the radio or tv on. Your dog may not feel so lonely if he hears noises in the background.