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Separation Anxiety and Prevention.

Preventing SA:

Insuring your dog is safe and comfortable in the house and that your house is safe and comfortable outside your dog!

Create a stress free departure and a happy homecoming from day 1 by:

  • Quiet and loving comings and goings. Do not be dramatic, emotional, or anxious about leaving/returning.  Dogs can pick up on that energy and develop generalized arousal and harder time being left alone. Be calm.

  • Follow a “leader of the pack” program (aka status reduction program). This program is not about being mean or cold to your dog. It’s about benevolently setting boundaries and joyfully teaching your dog to learn delayed gratification. The basics are simple: don’t cater to our dog just because she is cute, rather expect her to be responsible polite member of the family. Polite family members don’t knock you over going out the door, don’t continually beg or paw for attention, don’t invade your personal space no matter what’s happening, and don’t insist that you give them massages anytime on demand. Learn exercises that use positive reinforcement to teach your dog to enjoy being polite.

  • Housetrain your dog. Take your dog out as often as you can stand (3x per hour for a pup; 1x per hour for an adult) and give them a treat just as their little behind comes up. Don’t wait until they trot back to the house – then they are getting a treat for coming back to the house, not for going potty outside. Don’t let them out of your sight if they’re puppies or new to your house. If they scoot down the hall and urinate in the guest bedroom when you’re not watching I want you to roll up a newspaper and hit yourself on the head with it, saying “bad human, bad human.” That was your mistake, not theirs. Take them out often in the morning – most dogs need to go 2x in the am. If they only go outside and you don’t give them the freedom to have “accidents” in the house, then voila, you’ve got a house trained dog.  When you’re gone your dog should be in a crate or small area where a mistake won’t cause much trouble, and where most dogs will quickly learn to avoid soiling if they can possibly help it. If you do see your dog start to go in the house, startle them out of it as quickly as you can with a quick loud nose (slap the wall, say AH!, throw an empty pop can so that it lands beside them and startles them) and take them outside. Avoid yelling and running full tilt toward them – being loud and scary doesn’t teach them anything except that you might be dangerous. Rubbing their nose in it teaches them to eat feces, or that you are a psycho person so interrupt them but do not terrify them. // Think your dog is housetrained because she cowers when you come home and she’s gone on the carpet? Think again.
  • Teach your dog to be comfortable in a crate/kennel. A “crate” can be any small area where your dog is comfortable and can’t get into a lot of trouble. Your dog needs to learn crate = feeling good. You don’t want your dog to think: “I got shoved in this weird unfamiliar place, my owner deserted me, I barked in panic, and thanks heavens I did, because she heard me and came back and let me out of that nightmare. Next time I’ll bark louder and maybe she’ll come sooner.” Instead play the “crate game” and toss tasty treats into the crate five times so that your dog loves to walk in and out of the crate.  Play the “crate game” by having your dog go in and out three to five times on evening, then repeat the game for a few sessions over the next day or two. (Remember that “crate” can mean any small area, including kennels and laundry rooms.) Be sure not to shut the door at first, just let your dog go in and out. Once your dog consistently charges happily into the crate, begin to swing the door shut for just a second after she enters. After a few more sessions of that, toss in a treat, shut the door, leave it shut and feed the dog through the gate. Now they’ve willingly gone into the crate, discovered the door was shut and still had a great time.  After a week or so of several sessions a day, start leaving the dog in the crate with a stuffed Kong or Sterile Beef Bone that will keep him busy. Once he is discovering how far out his tongue will go, you walk away for 30 seconds. Come back BEFORE he’s done and open the door, say “hi”quietly and take away the toy. Now your dog is learning: “Oh boy, she’s going to go and I’ll get my peanut butter surprise, oh boy oh boy, I wish she’d hurry up and go.” Followed by: “Oh shoot, she’s coming back, well heck, I’m not done yet, how come she came back so soon!”  All you need to do now is gradually increase the amount of time that your dog is left alone in the crate. Pick a time when your dog is most likely to nap after she finished mining the goodies out of her toy. Do several repetitions of each of following intervals: Leave your dog for 1 second, 2 seconds, 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 3 mins, 5 mins, 15 mins, 30 mins, 1 hr, 2 hrs, 3 hrs, and on to however long you need to confine your dog.
  • Getting more exercise will not cure SA, but it sure can protect your house from a bored dog who’s on the prowl for something to do.

Treating SA:

If you are sure that anxiety is what’s driving your dog’s inappropriate behavior, your job is to teach your dog a new reaction when you walk out the door.  To be clear: you are trying to influence your dog’s emotions rather than training your dog to perform obedience.

  • Never correct destruction or accidents after the fact. Sure your dog may look guilty when you walk into the home, but that doesn’t mean your dog knows she did something wrong. What she does know is if you come home and there’s a mess in the house, you’re going to launch into a dramatic display of anger. Her appeasing posture is designed to avert your wrath. Get in the habit of coming home with no drama, no matter what you find.

  • Keep your coming and going low-key.

  • Begin a desensitizing and counterconditioning procedure to teach your dog to feel good when you walk out. The key is to create situations where your dog feels happy when you leave, and to prevent him from being scared as the door closes. You want your dog to feel good “when you leave” NOT “while you’re gone”. Most dogs with SA are in a panic by the time you’ve shut the door and many are terrified long before that. They’ve learned to associate your routine — putting on your coat, getting your keys, maybe even combing your hair — with your departure. Those events on their own can trigger fear before you get anywhere near the door. Your goal is to divide your departure and absence into tiny steps and gradually get your dog happy each and every one of them. Read the steps below and write out your own customized plan:

    • Write down the “triggers” that cue your dog that you are leaving: spend a few days getting very clear about exactly where in the leaving process your dog gets concerned. It’s important you find the beginning because you need to start before your dog gets nervous. The “triggers” are the events that concern in your dog, the things you do that clue your dog in to your subsequent departure. The most common ones are picking up your keys, putting on your shoes, or jacket. Some dogs began to pace when their owner puts on lipstick or when they dry their hair or close up the bedroom or turn off the radio.

    • Randomly desensitize the “triggers”: teach your dog to dis-associate the triggers with your departure. Five times each day, do one trigger at a time, without actually going anywhere. If putting on your coat is a trigger then get your coat and ignore your dog completely. Do anything for a minute or two: watch TV, talk on the phone, balance your checkbook — do anything but leave the house. Then take your coat off and continue to ignore your dog. Repeat this whenever you can. The idea is to teach your dog a new association — that coats, keys, or hairbrushes, don’t mean much at all. Be careful with this method. Do not do this within one hour of leaving or you might sensitize your dog to be more anxious when you actually go. If your dog has severe SA, be sure to do only one action at a time, and briefly — maybe pick up your keys and then instantly put them down while you’re watching TV. The trick is to ensure that your dog quickly dis-associates these events with your actually walking out the door.