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Canine separation anxiety is one of the most difficult problems facing some dog owners today. In fact, this condition has been cited as a primary factor in the euthanization of tens of thousands of dogs each year. This is disturbing considering that separation anxiety in dogs is not a behavioral problem- it’s a reaction to a situation that most dogs would not be subjected to under natural conditions.
Canines are an animal that instinctively group together in familial packs where individual members are rarely alone. For domesticated dogs, owners and their families are the pack. But while some dogs don’t appear to be too troubled by being left alone, others become distressed and exhibit destructive behavior in an effort to rejoin with their “pack.” Owners often return and punish the dog for the destructive behaviors, causing the animal more stress and anxiety relating to separation.
Separation anxiety in dogs can quickly spin out of control. Dogs that are anxious or distressed by this condition might chew at walls, windows, furniture or carpets, urinate or defecate indoors, chew at their hindquarters or feet, spin in circles, bark incessantly and a host of other negative and destructive behaviors. Attempts to control or “train” this behavior out of a dog fail because it is a reaction, not a vindictive or revenge-type behavior. Dogs are simply not capable of that kind of abstract thinking.
If your dog is constantly underfoot, displays frantic and excessive greeting or departure behaviors and is destructive when you are away, chances are great that the animal is suffering from separation anxiety. There are a number of things that you can do to help your dog:
*Don’t make a big deal out of leaving or returning: the jingling of keys, donning or removal of outdoor attire, well-intentioned hellos and goodbyes and other behaviors like this only serve to cause severe anxiety for your dog. Instead, remain calm and quiet, and only pay attention to your dog if it is also being calm and quiet. When you attempt to “soothe” your dog who is acting anxious you are actually only rewarding the anxious behavior. Don’t do this.
* Don’t punish your dog for separation-related behaviors. Instead, reward your dog for remaining calm and build positive associations with your departures and returns.
*Don’t crate a dog with this condition- many dogs have been known to seriously injure themselves while trying to escape from a kennel. Instead, reserve a specific room that the dog can be confined to that offers comfort but few opportunities to be destructive.
*Talk to your veterinarian about treatment for severe separation anxiety. Over the counter relaxants are available as well, including herbal remedies that can be found at health food centers and pet stores.
In Summary – Finally, be sure that your dog gets plenty of exercise- this is an often overlooked but crucial part of keeping your dog physically and mentally healthy.
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