DOG BEHAVIOUR - SEPARATION ANXIETY

Why has my dog all of a sudden developed this problem?

Separation anxiety is a common problem that owners experience with their pet. The words separation anxiety is a psychological condition where an animal or human experiences anxiety in regards to separation from people to which they have a strong emotional attachment. During this separation-related distress, people will see problematic behaviours that only ever occur when the dog is separated from its owner. The most common signs of separation anxiety include excitement, destruction of items, chewing, whining, shaking, digging, excessive barking, urinating and defecating. 

Whats causes dogs to develop separation anxiety?

In the case of anxiety more than likely it is the owner who triggers this state of mind of pure excitement.
It is important to ask yourself – Is my dog happy to see me when I get home? The answer will obviously be YES! However what is a normal reaction, and what is abnormal? Do they jump up persistently with your verbal commands going unnoticed? And do you come home to destruction or accidents?
A normal balanced reaction for a dog when you come home is a wagging tail and the longing for a pat. Anything more then this – jumping, whining, howling, running all over the furniture is leading to an unhealthy and abnormal state.
SO…. It is apparent that some owners actually WANT their dog be so pleased to have their owner return home. But, the owner is in fact moulding their dog into separation anxiety with the best intentions in that act of leaving and returning home. They create excitement and anticipation. The dog spends ALL day just waiting for the excitement and affection that comes with the owner returning. With this comes the high pitch voice with words consisting of “WHOSE A GOOD BOY?! MUMMY MISSED YOU! OH HELLO MY BABY!” Sound familiar?
During this time, your dog is about to have a heart attack as it leaps uncontrollably all over you, whining and crying. This is not a good state of mind for the dog to be in. Of course, there are cases in which it has nothing to do with the owner and hyperactive and genuinely high-energy dogs are apparent. It is important to recognize if your dog has normal energy throughout the day or whether it does show signs of abnormal excitement all the time. So what can you do to stop this behaviour? 

How should I correct and/or reward my pet for bad or good behaviour?

With this issue it is important that you do not punish a dog when you get home for doing something it may have done hours before.. It is useless! This will only teach your dog that when you get home it will be smacked or shouted at. This will only increase the anxiety and the chewing/destruction, which will ADD to the problem you are trying to correct.  To punish a dog for its chewing only makes it worse so you need to look at WHY the dog is destructing in the first place. There is a product about to be released on the market that will help dog owners stop bad behaviour and bad habits before the damage is done. It is called Petguard. Petguard will be starting a Kickstarter campaign soon, and will help dog owners like yourselves help manage and retrain your pet to do the right thing even when your not home. I will be talking about this product in a lot more detail later!
Rewarding good behaviour could be as simple as petting or verbal praise once your dog has settled down from your arrival home to a situation. You could also give your dog a high-end treat that they like to reward them for their good behaviour. It is really important that when you do walk through the door you ignore your dogs behaviour and make no eye contact until the dog has settled. This will ensure that the dog learns that it will not be getting any sort of attention until it calms down. Once settled, reward them with a tasty treat so they will soon learn that they will only be acknowledged and rewarded when it settles.

Prevention

It is important to start young when your dog is a puppy. Ensuring they have time when they’re on their own for short periods of time for example when your picking the letters up from the letterbox or taking the rubbish outside is important in their training of being alone. Before you leave give your dog a chewing toy, or a long lasting treat that will keep them distracted for as a long as you’re away. The key is to slowly increase the period of time that you spend away from your puppy over several days. This will ensure that when you do depart for extended periods of time your puppy will slightly look forward to it, as they will be rewarded with a chewy toy or a tasty treat!

Treatment

It is important to ensure that the owner is not heightening the state of excitement by not making a fuss upon arrivals and departures making sure they are as unemotional as possible. By ignoring the dogs behaviour in the over excited state it will train the dog that it will not be rewarded with a pat, or verbal praise until it settles. Once the dog has settled down you can reward it with a physical contact, praise or a treat. This will eventually retrain your dog that they will not be acknowledged until they’re calm. Ensuring that your dog is adequately exercised in the morning before you leave the house, or at nighttime will ensure that it does not have any extra energy to give to the destruction of items or any other form of outlet. Not getting enough walking or play will only contribute and amplify your dogs’ anxiety. This may also help settle the dog so when you do depart, it will sleep.

Giving the dogs alternate things to chew will also help. Some dogs act out by tearing up all different things in the house, Ensuring that your dog has plenty of chew toys, or any kind of toy that can stimulate his brain to keep him entertained and distracted whilst you are gone. Some toys I would recommend is a kong that you can stuff food with, or hiding some kibble in a plastic bottle that the have to keep spinning to get food out. Another is to freeze their favorite toy or some food in an ice-cream container. They will sit there for a long period of time trying to lick at it to get the toy out. Placing a rope on a tree or some sort of pole that the dog can play tug-of-war by itself. There are multiple other brain stimulation toys on the market so do you research and find one that will suit your pet! 

Training your dog to be left alone is really important and I would encourage you to do this exercise if your dog is suffering from this disorder. Try leaving your dog alone in a room starting for one minute whilst you are in another room. Increase the time, and distance to other rooms in the house then finally outside the house, in the garden. Eventually you can introduce triggers that tell your dog your leaving, coat, shoes, bag, keys, front door, then the car. It is most important that you understand your dog’s breed and what its needs are. This behaviour is not done out of revenge or spite because you left them, it is purely to reduce and relive tension. It is important that you re-evaluate what in fact you are doing or what you can do to help your dog. To relieve the tension, you could increase their exercise and find new things to keep their brain entertained whilst you are out. This would definitely help and even solve the problem!