Separation anxiety can be a challenging issue for many pet owners. It is mainly a problem with dogs though it can occur with cats. Anxiety occurs when dogs become overly attached to their owners. As a result, dogs may follow their owners from room to room and constantly seek a great deal of attention. Dogs may even show signs like excessive panting, salivation, or vocalization prior to the owner leaving the house. The real problems occurs once they are separated from the owner. Owners with dogs that have separation anxiety may return home from a long departure to destruction of property and house soiling. They may even receive complaints from neighbors of excessive vocalization and barking. There are dogs that even inflict damage to themselves because of their anxiety. Treatment of separation anxiety can be a long intensive process. It involves reducing the level of anxiety and eliminating destructive or distracting behaviors.
Behavior modification is the best way to help ease separation anxiety in your pet. This typically involves retraining your dog to be less anxious during departures. Techniques can involve distracting your pet during your departure, avoiding departure cues, masking departure cues, and retraining your pet to be more independent. Drug therapy may also be considered as an adjunctive treatment to behavior modification.
1. Distracting Your Pet
A good way to distract your pet before leaving your house is to have a vigorous session of play or exercise. The goal is to tire your pet out while providing it some attention. After the play session, your pet should be encouraged to rest in a designated area with a TV or radio playing so he/she won’t notice you leaving. Another way to distract your pet is to arouse your it with a tempting treat. This can be especially helpful if your dog is highly food motivated. Some of these treats can include a peanut butter coated dog toy, a piece of rawhide, a dog toy stuffed with liver, or a frozen dog treat. These devices need to last as long as possible if they will be successful in handling separation anxiety.
2. Avoiding Departure Cues
Avoiding departure cues can be challenging and quite involved. Despite this, it is an important technique when dealing with separation anxiety. There are several routines that are performed before we leave our residence. Dogs learn these signals after being exposed to them daily. The key is to recognize our own behavior and try to avoid doing them in front of the pet. Routines such as brushing teeth, changing into work clothes, picking up keys, briefcase, or books for school should be performed outside the view of the dog. You may need to consider changing your clothes at work, having lunch preparation the night before, and even parking your car away from the house so the dog won’t hear the car leaving the driveway. You should also utilize graduated departure training. This is where you leave your residence and return before anxiety peaks. The time away should gradually increase to attempt to acclimate your dog. During this time, it is important that you include activities such as opening/closing car doors, turning on car engine, and pulling the car out of the driveway to maximize effectiveness of this technique.
3. Masking departure cues
To mask departure cues, you will need to associate them with enjoyable or relaxing situations. Typically this involves retraining your dog while you plan to stay at home. You are likely to perform the same daily routines when you are about to leave for work or school. You go through these same daily routines with an exception of the actual departure. Afterwards you should get your pet to lie down and become calm, then repeat the technique. After some time, your dog will not respond to these departure cues.
4. Teaching independence
In dealing with separation anxiety, teaching your pet to be more independent is one of the most important factors. The way to achieve this is to avoid rewarding attention seeking behaviors. You should encourage your pet to relax in a quiet place and accept lengthy periods without attention. This is the area and the time when your pet should be rewarded for their behavior.
5. Avoid punishment for behaviors related to anxiety
When a dog causes destruction of property or house soils, it’s tempting to issue some form of punishment. Punishment for these reasons may make your pet even more anxious when you are around. So you should avoid punishment for behaviors relating to anxiety.
6. Drug Therapy as an adjunctive therapy
Also you may add drug therapy to your behavior modification protocol, especially in very difficult cases. Options for drugs include anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs or a combination of both. Just keep in mind that drugs alone have little effect on the improvement of separation anxiety. These drugs also have their side effects that may affect different dogs in different ways. Therefore behavior modification is the most important factor in treating this condition.
Treating separation anxiety can be an involved process. But with dedication and consistency treatment can be successful. Working with your veterinarian can further help with your success.