Separation Anxiety - Dogs Behaving Badly
If you think you have the naughtiest dog on the block who barks, whines and howls in your absence and drives your neighbours mad, take some comfort in the fact that you are not alone. You may think your dog is deliberately behaving badly just to annoy you, but chances are your dog may be suffering from a very common condition called separation anxiety.
This is an emotional disturbance triggered by the absence of someone whom the dog considers to be part of its ‘pack’. Put simply, the dog is desperately missing someone and is behaving inappropriately (by human standards!) in an effort to try and get that person back.
A dog experiencing separation anxiety may also dig under fences or scratch at doors and gates to try and reach you. He may tear up or chew clothes to comfort himself with your scent. When you are home, he may not let you out of his sight and will follow you wherever you go. If left untreated, this condition can turn into an emotional nightmare for both dog and owner, with owners often coming home to find damage to property as well as receiving complaints from neighbours about noise.
It is useless to get angry at the dog after the incident has occurred. Instead, you have to stop reinforcing your dog’s demands for attention. By this I mean that you start ignoring your dog when he is barking and whining and reward him quietly with verbal praise and food treats whenever he sits quietly on his own. Most people don’t realise that fussing over the dog before you leave the house and when you come back is only reinforcing his belief that it’s a big issue and this in turn adds to his anxiety. Instead, start minimising interaction with your dog for about half an hour before you leave and after you return, so he starts to realise it is just another part of the day.
Many dogs pick up cues that you are going to leave - such as putting your shoes on or picking up your keys - and immediately get distressed. You need to break this connect and carry out these routines well before you leave. Also, do these things occasionally while you are home, without going anywhere, so the dog learns there is no reason for concern.
Another good tip is to increase your dog’s exercise regimen, so that he’s more likely to rest while you are away. Also provide plenty of constructive things for your dog to do when you’re not at home… like giving him toys and raw bones to chew on. Obedience training is always of benefit to help teach your dog that you are the boss and also to increase your dog’s tolerance to new circumstances and noises.
PLease dont be afraid to seek professional help - your vet can provide you with contact details for an animal behaviour expert or trainer in your area who will do housecalls and assess your situation and help resolve it.
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