Separation anxiety, also known in the dog training world as owner absent misbehaviour, is one of the most frequently encountered problems in the world of dog training. Separation anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways, including chewing, destroying the owner’s property, excessive barking, self destructive behaviour and inappropriate urination and defecation.
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety often whine, bark, cry, howl, dig, chew and scratch at the door the entire time their family members are away. Well meaning owners often unwittingly encourage this misbehaviour by rushing home to reassure the dog, but it is important for the well being of both dog and owner that the dog learn to deal with extended periods of separation.
How the owner leaves the house can often contribute to separation anxiety issues. A long and drawn out period of farewell can make matters worse by making the dog feel even more isolated when the owner finally leaves. These long types of farewells can get the dog excited, and then leave him with lots of excess energy and no way to work it off. These excited, isolated dogs often work off their excess energy in the most destructive of ways, such as chewing up a favourite rug or piece of furniture.
Excess energy is often mistaken for separation anxiety, since results are often the same. If you think that excess amounts of energy may be the problem, try giving your dog more exercise to see if that eliminates the problem.
If separation anxiety is truly the problem, it is important to address the root causes of that anxiety. In order to prevent separation anxiety from occurring, it is important for the dog to feel happy, safe, secure and comfortable while the owner is away for the day. It is important, for instance, to give the dog plenty of things to keep it busy while you are away. This means providing it with lots of toys, such as balls or chew toys. A pet companion is often effective at relieving separation anxiety as well. Giving the dog a playmate, such as another dog or a cat, is a great way for busy pet parents and pets alike to cope with the stress of being left alone.
Setting aside scheduled play times, during which the pet is given your undivided attention, is another great way to alleviate boredom and separation anxiety. Playing with the dog, and providing it with sufficient attention and exercise, is a proven way to avoid a stressed and anxious dog. A happy dog that has been well exercised and well conditioned will generally sleep the day away happily and patiently wait for the return of its owner.
It is important to schedule one of these daily play sessions before you leave the house each day. It is important to give the dog a few minutes to settle down after playtime before you leave.
For dogs that are already experiencing separation anxiety and associated misbehaviours, it is important to get him accustomed to your leaving gradually. Be sure to practice leaving and returning at irregular intervals, several times during the day. Doing so will get your dog accustomed to your departures and help him realise that you are not leaving him forever. Dogs that have been previously lost, or those that have been surrendered to shelters and readopted, often have the worst problems with separation anxiety. Part of treating this problem is teaching the dog that your leaving is not permanent.