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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.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 20 - September 7543
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