By Dr. Parker T. Barker
When my Mom first adopted me, I had severe separation anxiety. Or some people call it separation panic. I never told Mom about my life “before” I came to live with her so she didn’t know what caused my constant barking. It just made me really, really nervous when she would leave me, even if my sister Peanut was still around. Separation anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways. For me, I would simply bark and bark and bark and bark until she came home. I have to admit that it kind of annoyed the neighbors. Other dogs might become destructive and chew things or they may have trouble controlling their pee or poop even if they are “prefect” when not stressed.
How can you tell if Fido is suffering from separation anxiety or is just bored? Sometimes that is a tough call to make. The difference for me goes to whether the dog is in real distress. My sister, when she was little, had a love of chewing on wood – coffee tables, chairs, ottoman feet etc. But she wasn’t distressed, just bored. Thankfully she outgrew that in several years and three coffee tables later.
What can you do to make separation anxiety less debilitating?
First, make your comings and goings very simple. Ignore your pooch. Leaving and coming back needs to be absolutely routine to him. No fuss, no muss, no discussions with your dog. Just put on your coat, grab your keys and head out. When you come back, do the reverse even if Fido is bouncing off all the furniture he is so excited. When he behaves as if you have been away for several weeks when you only walked to the end of the driveway to get the mail is the time when you need to pretend he isn’t even there. The more excited he is, the calmer and uninterested you need to be.
If you still think there is a problem after totally ignoring him, there are two approaches you can use either singly or in tandem – behavior modification and drugs from the Vet. The behavior modification is similar to the old clicker training. You might try hiding treats around the house for Fido to find after you have left or keep a special toy that he loves and only bring it out when you are leaving so he begins to associate getting something good – food or a toy – with you leaving.
If you have a dog that needs to always be at your side, who follows you from room to room and it is driving you crazy, you might try training him to execute a “stay” maneuver at a distance from you. And like all behavior modification, all of this will take time and consistency.
And the last resort if nothing seems to be working is to talk to your Vet about what medications might help. A seriously anxious dog isn’t a happy dog so don’t leave working on the solution too long from when you get the pup. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to retrain him or mitigate whatever is causing the distress.
Today, I am much better than I was when I was a puppy. I am also nine years old now and I know Mom will always come back although I admit that she has worried me a couple of times. Occasionally, I will sit quietly on her bed when I hear the key in the lock and totally ignore her. That usually gets me a tummy rub… And you ask who trained who in our house…