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Separation anxiety in dogs

Often there is information in various magazines and newspapers about separation anxiety in humans, but very little is discussed about the same condition in dogs. There are some dogs that become very distressed when they are without human companionship for long, or possibly even short, periods of time.

These dogs begin to engage in challenging and even destructive kinds of behaviors such as chronic barking, chewing, digging and even chewing at themselves or becoming highly aggressive to their owners, other people, and even other pets. Why one dog becomes more distressed when separated than another dog has a lot to do with their temperament, breed and the way that they have been raised and treated.

Causes of Separation Anxiety

As mentioned above there are several factors that can contribute to separation anxiety in dogs. The major factors are:

• Breed traits. Breeds that have been bred as companion dogs such as toys or miniatures as well as some of the small terrier breeds are often more likely to show separation anxiety but some of the larger breeds such as Boxers and German Shepherds may also show signs. Great Danes may also have statistically more cases of separation anxiety as they tend to bond very strongly with people. Basically any breed or dog that loves to be with the owner, family or people in general can develop separation anxiety.

• History of separation. Often puppies that were removed from the mother and littermates too soon have separation anxiety as adult dogs. Dogs that have recently changed owners can also go through a period of separation anxiety. Some dogs will adjust to the change whereas others may not.

• Dogs that have been maltreated in the past. Dogs that have been left alone for extended periods of time or dogs that have been harshly punished are more prone to separation anxiety, even with another owner.

• Changes in routine or schedules. Dogs are very routine oriented. When there is a sudden change in schedules dogs sometimes take time to adjust.

• Divorce, moves or death. Often during a divorce, a move or the death of a family member a dog will go through a period of separation anxiety. Children returning to school after summer vacation can also be a dramatic change in the dogs social interactions with family members and can lead to problems with anxiety.

What to do about separation anxiety

If you feel that your dog has separation anxiety talk to your vet. There may be medical conditions that are causing the change in your dogs behavior so it is important to eliminate this concern. Once that is ruled out consider the following tips:

• Spend extra time with your pet when you are home.

• Walk or exercise your pet before you leave the house.

• Start with small absences and gradually increase the time that you are away.

• Have a neighbor or friend drop over and “visit” with your dog for a few minutes during the time you are away.

• Have your dog “baby sat ” at a friends or neighbors house so they are not alone.

• Provide lots of toys and chew items for your dog when you are away.

• Practice leaving and arriving. Reward your dog when you return for not engaging in any destructive behavior.

• Consider making a dog room and set up a den or crate in the room that the dog feels very secure and comfortable in. Always keep times the dog is in the room or crate as small as possible.

• Consider a companion dog. Another dog will often take the fear out of being alone.

A professional trainer can assist if the separation anxiety does not get better. It is always advisable to get help as soon as possible to avoid this behavior from becoming a habit.

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