Dogs tend to be a creature of routine. They enjoy having things the same way every day and they learn your daily routine. They know when you are coming and going and they react accordingly. When a dog becomes stressed as the owner leaves the home, this is known as separation anxiety. Your dog will express some common symptoms if they have separation anxiety. Barking, whining, scratching at the walls, doors and floor, destroying items in the home and trying to escape the house or the crate are all examples of this, when you combine them with signs of panic, stress or depression.
Dog expert Caesar Milan says that many dog owners unknowingly help to create separation anxiety in their dogs. This happens when dog owners make a big fuss when they leave and when they come home. He says that we reward the dog’s concern about not being there. This makes him feel more and more stressed each time that we leave home. When a dog experiences a change in their routine, this can create separation anxiety.
It should be noted that a dog can express the same symptoms as separation anxiety creates if he is simply bored or hasn’t had enough exercise. Milan says that if we don’t overcome this, we are holding the dog back from what he instinctively is supposed to be doing. He says that exercise and discipline come first, and affection should come last. He explains that the initial problem may start when your dog is a puppy. When the puppy is left alone, it starts to cry. What do we do then? We go and pick him up and love on him. This rewards the dog for his crying. He says that we shouldn’t reward undesirable behavior.
Preventing Separation Anxiety
If you visit the veterinarian, they may prescribe drugs to help your dog, but Milan says that this is a temporary fix and not a cure. Nevertheless, it may be a good idea to visit a vet to rule out any health problems if your dog is urinating all over the house.
The ASPCA and Milan don’t agree on the best method to help a dog with separation anxiety. ASPCA says that the best way to deal with a dog getting anxious when you leave is to give them a food-filled treat such as a Kong® toy as you are walking out of the door. The idea is that they get to associate you leaving with them getting something they like. On the contrary, Milan suggests that you as the owner need to change the way you relate to your dog instead of rewarding him. He says that you need to teach a dog to be patient and calm on his own.
Milan says that one of the best ways of dealing with separation anxiety in a dog is to crate train him. He says to get your dog used to the crate by putting him in the crate for short periods of time to begin with. Then increase this time gradually. He says to feed him in the crate and give him his favorite chew toy to keep him entertained. The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand upright without his head touching the top of the crate and he should have room to turn around and lay down.
What if the dog won’t stop barking in the crate? Buy him a bark collar. This will help to control barking when you are not at home. When you leave, Milan says to do so quietly. Avoid making a big deal about leaving, just go through your routine as you always do, paying no attention to your dog.
The ASPCA recommends exercise as a cure for separation anxiety. They say that it is imperative that your dog has plenty of physical and mental stimulation to treat anxiety.
One thing you can do that may help your dog is to leave music playing or the television turned on. This helps to give them a sense of security.
The ASPCA says that you should not punish your dog if he doesn’t overcome his fear as quickly as you like, as this could make the problem worse. Just be patient until your dog feels comfortable staying alone.