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Separation Anxiety


What is it??
Separation anxiety is a condition in which a dog cannot cope with being separated from it's owner, and reacts with excitement or depression when it's owners leaves. These dogs can show their distress before the owner leaves but most signs of anxiety are shown within 1/2 hour of the owners departure, problem behaviours can include:

Aggression when the owner leaves
Destructive behaviour
Self mutilation
Urination or defacation
Psychosomatic problems
Excessive barking

Destructive/excessive barking behaviour is the most common type of behaviour encountered in dogs presented for treatment. These behaviours are self gratifying, therefore separation anxiety can be self perpetuating.
Dogs do not behave in these ways to "get even" with their owners, or punish them for leaving them home alone, they do so out of anxiety and a lack of confidence.

Separation anxiety is caused by separation from the owner, the leader of the pack, and is most often encountered in mix breed dogs from rescue centres, dogs who have changed homes and families often, and dogs that are very attached to one family member. Separation anxieties are learned, so therefore there is an excellent outlook for relearning the behaviours that have caused the problems in the first place. The most at risk dogs are the very dependent ones, the ones that follow you around all day demanding attention, the ones that show excessive displays of greetings, even after the shortest of departures, and the ones who are restless and excitable.


Treament is not revolved around punishments, which can be counterproductive, but more by treating the underlying causes of the anxieties, and cooling the relationship between dog and owner.

1. Reduce your dogs dependency on you, have someone else feed and walk him, and don't constantly pet and praise him. Be more casual and less excitable with the dog.

2. Try and avoid destructive behaviour during the retraining phase, if necessary, hire someone to sit with the dog and/or place him in a crate when you leave him.

3. Practise standard obedience behaviour, sit, stay, come etc on a regular basis, and try and build the dog's confidence through positive training exercises.

4. Exercise your dog for a minimum 15 mins twice a day, or more according to breed/age etc.
Remember "a tired dog is a good dog"

5. Give the dog an acceptable item to chew, bone or treat filled Kong to give the dog something to do while you go out, rub your scent on it and only give it to him when you depart.

6. At the beginning of retraining, try to avoid the anxiety behaviour wherever possible by taking the dog with you for major departures, but at the same time, start a programme of planned random small departures.

7. Calm your dog before your departure by doing control exercise, eg. Sit stays, long downs, and give him little attention.

8. All the moves for a mock departure must be as similar as possible as for a real departure, rewarding quiet behaviour but never anxious behaviour, then leave for a very short time and return, once more rewarding quiet behaviour.

9. Use a new stimulus, say leave a radio or TV going, so the dog associates the new stimulus with the new happier circumsatnces.

10. A DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser can be used to calm dogs, they are availble as a plug in, similar to a glade freshener from many dog web sites.

11. Use a doggy day care if you have unavoidable long departures from the home, your dog is excessive in his behaviour, or if you have problems with neighbours, until your retraining is complete..

If you would like any further information on separation anxiety, or any other topic relating to pet dog training, email Sue Williams at suewill@ihug.co.nz

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