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Preventing Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety can occur at any age so early training and teaching behavior modification techniques are essential for all our canine companions. The signs of separation anxiety include destructive activity, vocalization, elimination, self injury and salivation during the owners absence. There are several things that we can do for our dogs to help prevent separation anxiety and some methods for teaching our companions that alone time can be positive time.

Exercise- Exercise is essential in all dogs’ lives no matter their age; a tired dog is a better behaved dog. However, caution should be taken to not over exercise them; you may end up with a cranky dog. Our younger dogs will often need higher energy activities at longer time intervals than our older dogs. Older dogs may require less-energy activities like a long walk to tire them out but exercise is a must. Dogs should be exercised daily. Exercise can also be done indoors, and there are many safe indoor activities/games.

Quiet place-We are going to create a quiet portable place for relaxation. We like to use a bathroom rug with a no skid bottom. You are to put the quiet place at your feet while you watch TV, eat dinner, read a book, etc. The dog is to be put in a sit or down on the rug with an enrichment toy (see below). Any time the dog gets up you are to place him back in a sit/down; you can use the toy to coax him. Continue to practice this technique several times every day making each session a longer sit/down stay. Always end on a positive note. Each dog in the house can and should have their own quiet place.
A benefit of having a quiet place is that you can use it any where. You can place it in a crate, take it when you go visiting, it will even work outside and of course it is easy to clean.
Let the dog know this is "his place", it is only for him and he always gets rewarded when he is on it. We want the dog to want to be on his place, no harm can happen when on it. His place is somewhere to go when alone to enjoy a nice treat-filled enrichment toy.

Enrichment toys-Enrichment toys are toys that make your dog think and problem solve about how they are going to get the reward. The reward is of course some kind of positive reinforcement in the way of a treat or an additional toy. These toys have specific purposes in your dog’s life. They will be used when you have your dog on his quiet place, when you have to go out and they are going to be alone, and when they need to be in their crate. At all other times these enrichment toys are out of sight of your dog. In time they will look forward to your departure to have their favorite toy.

Practice, Practice, Practice-Dogs must learn to inhibit their behavior so teaching sit/down is the best technique you can use. Once the dog can sit and stay with the owner in the same room he should be taught to stay even when the owner is out of sight. Place the dog in a sit and walk into the next room for just a moment, then return to the dog. If he is calm (even if standing), ask him to sit and reward him (treat/praise), if he is anxious or could not stay in a sit/down repeat the procedure. This time only go a few feet away and then return. Gradually work up to going into the next room.

Departure-Your departure should always be kept very calm and quiet. As a dog lover this next part may be very difficult: when you leave do not pet and say good bye to your dog. If he is crate trained place him in his crate, and give him his enrichment toy and turn away. If not using a crate give him his enrichment toy and turn away to depart. Acknowledging your good- bye can trigger an anxiety attack on both your dog and yourself.

Arrivals-Upon arriving home let your dog out of his crate (if he is in one) and wait until he is calm, ask him to sit and then give a quiet greeting. Pick up the enrichment toy and place it out of your dog’s sight so it can be used another time.

The Big Picture-You take your dog out for a nice long walk, come home and while you’re making dinner you have your dog in his quiet place resting. After dinner you and the family are planning a night out. After a quick trip out to relieve himself your dog is asked into his crate and given an enrichment toy. Before you even close the door he's enjoying the toy and you’re on your way. Upon returning home you let your dog out of his crate and remember not to pet him until he is calm and hopefully sitting.

Congratulations, all of your training pays off.

References:
I’ll Be Home Soon! How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety – Patricia B. McConnell Ph.D.
The Dog Whisperer – Paul Owens and Norma Eckroate
Before & After Getting Your Puppy – Dr. Ian Dunbar
www.svbt.org