Isolation Distress vs. Separation Anxiety
Isolation distress is a much lower level of stress that is displayed when the dog is left alone. On the other hand, Separation Anxiety is when the dog suffers an extreme panic attack.
The difference between the two is important to realize. Isolation distress means that the dog doesn’t want to be left alone. A human or a doggie friend will do for company. This is why Doggie Day Care is so popular. It gives the dog someone and something to keep its mind of you for the time you are gone.
In contrast, separation anxiety is when a dog shows extreme stress even if other humans or dogs are present. This is because the human or animal that they have bonded with is absent. In human terms we call it an obsession.
There are several things you can do to resolve your dog’s isolation / separation anxiety issues.
A short time before you leave give your dog a chance to burn of some energy. Take you dog out for a brief walk or toss a ball or Frisbee for 5-10 minutes. A tired dog will tend to be less anxious and destructive. End exercise sessions 15 to 20 minutes before you leave. This will give the dog a chance to settle down.
Don’t make a big deal out of leaving. Make it seem like no big deal. Make your returns calm as well. Ignore your dog until you do the things you usually do when coming home. (Take off your coat, put away groceries etc). This will show the dog that leaving and coming home is not an “event.” It is just something that happens from time to time.
Give Your Dog Something To Do
As you are getting ready to leave give your dog something to keep it busy. I use a “Kong” toy and smear some peanut butter inside. You can also buy toys that have small holes in them. As the toy moves, treats or kibble fall out of the holes.
This toy actually serves two purposes. It’s a good distraction and it also makes a dog that gulps its food eat much slower.
This is the one I use the most. Teach your dog that it is Okay to be alone in its safe place. From day one I have always made sure that my dogs know they are safe inside the house. One this is done I establish a phrase “like a command word.” This phrase tells the dog “I’m leaving but I’ll be back soon.” A phrase like “I’ll be Right Back” works well.
Start by using the phrase and then exit the room or house. Wait a few seconds to make sure your dog is still calm. Then return and treat the dog for being calm. Continue to extend the amount of time until you can leave for 1, 5, 10, 20 30 or more minutes. Be aware, this can take some time to get the desired result.
Mix It Up
Your dog gets used to your routine. So mix it up so the anxiety doesn’t have a change to build. Instead of putting your shoes on last every time, put them on then site back down and do something.
Doggie Day Care / Dog Sitter
A Doggie Daycare may be a good fit for some dogs. A neighbor or relative who is home when you are gone can be a great solution. Home-bound or senior citizens often love to have some canine companionship.
Get Your Dog a Playmate
Get your dog a playmate or a house-mate. This solution often works but has a few drawbacks. If you consider this option you need to make sure it is the right fit. If you get the wrong dog you may have more problems.
When I’m home I usually have a radio or television on. If my dog seems like she is a little stressed, I’ll leave the radio playing. This helps her relax because she relates it to me being home.
Getting Professional Help
Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. A trainer or behaviorist can evaluate your dog, your current path and offer other possible options. You can also contact your veterinarian and explore the possibilities of using anti-anxiety medications.
In closing, separation anxiety is hard to fix. It takes time, effort and immense patience. Getting frustrated with destructive behavior is easy to do. Just remember your dog is not doing it out of spite or anger. Dogs don’t rationalize they only react. When you leave a dog suffering from separation anxiety it thinks is has been left alone to fend for itself. It is only thinking about how it will survival without you. In that moment it thinks that you are gone and not coming back. That has to be terrifying.
Making a commitment to help a dog with separation anxiety is huge. I have worked with several fearful dogs in the past few years. It IS a lot of painstaking work. But when you can break through the fear, the dog you find underneath is amazing. You will see that peaceful spirit come out.
Contact A Better Dog4U if you have any questions or if you need any help with your training. We will be glad to set up a personal consultation in order to help you any way that we can.