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Canine Separation Anxiety leads to the abandonment or euthanasia of many dogs, and to lifestyle sacrifices of many dog owners. It is a manageable, and often curable disorder.

The first part of solving the problem is understanding that the dog is not intentionally destructive, and the " sorry " look he gives when you return home is not " sorry " at all.

It is a survival instinct for dogs to be with their packs, and this appears to be the root of separation anxiety. Simply put, some dogs panic when left alone. It happens very quickly, usually within minutes of being left. They don't have a good concept of elapsed time. They have no reason to believe you are ever coming back. They may try to dig their way out of the house or yard, tearing apart woodwork, walls, rugs, and fences. They bark and howl. As the panic intensifies they may urinate and defecate. To relieve the anxiety they maybegin chewing things; furniture, cushions, shoes, books, anything. As fatigue sets in, the panic response subsides. Usually it's over within an hour of your leaving, although some dogs may vocalize for many hours. Some dogs will have a second go-round just prior to your arrival. Dogs have an excellent sense of time of day.

Part of the anxiety is trained. You come home and see the havoc that has been wrought in your home and you understandably become angry. So your dog panicked when you left.Now your dog is afraid of you when you come home. He assumes a submissive posture hoping you won’t attack him. He isn't sorry for what he did, he's afraid of what you'll do. And hedoesn't understand that the torn up cushion s why you're angry, not even if you show it to him. And he did that to the cushion when you first left, a seeming lifetime ago. He thinks you are going to beat him with it.

Your dog has learned your routine. Your alarm goes off, you hurry him out to do his stuff, you get ready, put on your good clothes, put on your shoes, jingle your keys and you leave. YOU LEAVE.

The quickest fix for this problem is simple- stop leaving. The next quickest is to bring your dog with you, everywhere and always. The rest of us have more work to do.

First, don't get mad. Your dog can't help it and getting mad makes the problem worse.

The next step is to break routine. Set your alarm on your day off, turn it off and go back to sleep. Jingle your keys and don't leave. Put your jacket on and watch TV.

While continuing to break up and confuse leaving rituals, begin practicing leaving. No "goodbyes" or " be goods", just matter of factly walk out and close the door. And then come right back in. No "hello" or "good dog". Ignore the dog until he has calmed down. Then greet. Do a lot of these practice departures, and very gradually stay outside longer and longer. At the first sign of panic, go back in and cut your time in half. Gradually prolong your absences. When you can stay away for a half hour, you're done. There is not too much difference to a dog between that half hour and eight hours.

You may need to watch out for other cues that may cause panic, like starting your car. If your car has become part of the anxiety eliciting pattern, try starting it and turning it off, then starting it and going up and down the driveway, gradually getting your dog used to the idea that you really are coming back and that nothing bad is happening while you're gone.

There are aids to help in this behavior modification program. A good one is a toy called a Kong that is available in most pet supply stores. You fill the hollow core of the Kong with something delicious and hard to get back out, like peanut butter. Give it to your dog just before leaving. Hopefully it will distract him long enough that the panic period is passed before he pays attention to your being missing.

Another aid is drugs. You'll need your veterinarian’s advice and agreement to prescribe psychoactive pharmaceuticals. In appropriate cases, they help a lot, and shorten the time that it takes to extinguish separation anxiety. But they won't permanently solve the problem without going through behavior modification or desensitization.

Expect it to take anywhere between one and four months to straighten this out.

It is worth it. Your dog and your couch will thank you. Remember, your dog's only crime is loving you too much. / Issue 192 - September 3966
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