You leave and he howls. Not just for a moment, but seemingly forever. When the howling finally abates, it is replaced by a whine. When you return, you find your home a mess as he has engaged in destructive behavior that is completely out of character. Your dog has a real problem: separation anxiety.
Dogs love their owners and develop a very close relationship with them. Sometimes the closeness of that relationship can leave them confused and frightened when the owner is gone. Thy dog may seem confused, angry or sullen when the owner leaves and may appear to lash out against being left alone by ruining furniture, creating messes or otherwise acting in ways wholly inconsistent with his training. Separation anxiety is relatively easy to diagnose: an otherwise well-adjusted dog seems to transform into a monster when left alone. Unfortunately, it is not always quite as easy to treat the disorder. Helping a dog to overcome problems with separation anxiety is a process, just like other aspects of training, it takes time and repetition to be truly successful.
The idea of training away separation anxiety seems unlikely because how can you address a behavior when you are not present to see, prevent or correct it? Fortunately, there are actions one can take to decrease separation anxiety and to prevent your dog's frustrated behavior from spiraling out of control during your absence. Prepare the dog for your departure. Many people have a tendency to lavish attention on their dog before leaving. They may take extra time to play with the dog or find other ways to try to squeeze in a little extra quality time with their canine friend. Though well intended, this only makes the owner's departure even more noticeable and worrisome for the dog.
Instead of petting and kissing the dog goodbye, owners dealing with separation anxiety should take measures to correctly prepare the pet for their absence. This can be done by intentionally decreasing interaction with the pet prior to leaving. Although one may want to spend extra time with a pet before leaving him alone, the best practice is to actually come close to ignoring your pet for several minutes prior to leaving. This will make your departure less jarring and should serve to decrease the dog's level of anxiety. If you are leaving for an extended period and feel the need to connect with your pet and to enjoy their company, find ways to do so earlier in the day.
Resist the urge to say goodbye before actually leaving. Provide an immediate distraction for the dog. Right before leaving, it is desirable to provide the pet with some sort of distraction. A new toy, for instance, may serve to occupy his attentions, allowing for a smoother transition to his alone time. Whatever immediate distraction is provided, make sure it is something that is likely to interest the dog for several minutes.
The objective, after all is to maintain his attention on something other than your absence for as long as can be reasonably expected. This technique has the added benefit of teaching your pet that his time alone will result in a pleasurable experience. He will begin to connect your departure with a fun toy or diversion instead of feeling it will only bring anxiety and loneliness. One should also provide a more lasting distraction. Dogs crave human contact and will unavoidably miss it while alone.
However, maintaining something of a human element to their surroundings can decrease the separation anxiety the feel when left without company. Many have experienced success by keeping a radio or television tuned to programming featuring a great deal of dialogue. The dog will hear human voices and although he certainly will not be fooled into believing he is in the company of human friends, the sound is still soothing and can reduce feelings of stress and loneliness. Separation anxiety can be an absolutely befuddling issue for a dog owner.
Even the most well-mannered and well-trained dogs can suddenly transform into destructive troublemakers as a result of separation anxiety. Training away this difficulty can be hard, especially when a dog feels very connected to his owner. However, by preparing your dog and utilizing appropriate immediate and lasting distractions, one can reasonably expect to reduce the anxiety experienced by their dog.
Paul Duxbury writes extensively on Pet Care. You can read more of his articles at Dog Care and Training and Pet Care Centre Download Your Free Dog Training Report