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Separation Anxiety and Your Dog

September is rolling around, and change is in the air. Kids are going back to school, the days are getting shorter and the mornings are getting a bit cooler. It’s a season of change for our pets as well. With kids going back to school, our dogs are suddenly all by themselves during the day, potentially leading to separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety can manifest itself in several different ways. Dogs may seek attention and try to stay close to their owner at all times, may vocalize after you leave, become destructive, salivate and have accidents around the house.

Separation anxiety can be a difficult and long process to deal with, but there are steps we can take to help. The goal is over time to reduce the level of anxiety your pets feel and train them to be comfortable in your absence. Be forewarned that this can be a long and intensive process, but the results an make it worth it.

When we get ready to leave in the morning, pets will often pick up on this, and their anxiety will heighten to a point where they will often follow you around seeking attention. If we can hide the fact that we’re leaving, we can often prevent this pre-departure spike in anxiety. About half an hour before leaving, it’s best to ignore your dog. Have him go somewhere where he can relax, maybe put some music on, or have the tv on as well (you will want to have the television on, or music playing at other times when you’re home as well so that he doesn’t end up associating those things with your departure). Get ready to leave – pack lunches, get shoes and coat on, collect keys out of sight of your dog. Alternatively, if you can’t do these things out of sight, you can expose them to these cues by performing mock departures. Get ready, but don’t leave so that they learn not to associate those cues with your departure.

Slowly over time, we want to teach your dog to accept your departures. We do this by using down and stay exercises. Have your dog sit and relax on his bed or in his kennel and walk across the room. When they can sit and stay for a few minutes with you standing across the room, we can move on to the next step, leaving the room. Start by leaving for 1 minute and then come back. Do this several times and gradually increase the amount of time you leave the room for, first 2 minutes, then three, etc. up to 15. After he stays and is relaxed for a quarter hour, we can practice a mock departure. Have him sit on his bed, leave the room and go through the motions of getting ready to leave. Work your way up to leaving the house for a minute. Similar to leaving the room, we want to gradually increase the amount of time that we’re gone for, starting short (1 or 2 minutes) and working up to 15 to 20 minutes. For these longer runs, get in your car and drive it around the block so that he can get used to the sound of the car leaving.

A third small but helpful trick we can use is to ignore your dog when you come back until he settles down. Exuberant greetings tend to heighten anxiety. Your dog will soon learn that the quicker he settles down, the sooner he will get attention.

Written by Dr. David Baker

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