3 Things to do Right Now to Avoid Separation Issues with Your Dog
by Robin MacFarlane
Dogs generally don't relish and certainly don't flourish when dealing with a high level of solitude.
Does your dog display some anxiety when you leave her behind? Is there a significant amount of barking when you crate the dog and walk away? Does Fido monitor your every move around the house, following you from room to room and paw at the door if you close them on the other side?
Dogs have an innate desire to be with their family. Often we hear it explained as a desire to be part of the "pack". Regardless of the semantics we use to describe this fact, the reality is dogs generally don't relish and certainly don't flourish when required to deal with a high level of solitude. They are social animals.
By the same token, is it not terribly healthy for them to constantly be attached at the hip to their human or another dog.
To achieve a balanced mental state, we need to teach our dogs how to self entertain and self calm when they are alone.
By making sure our dogs can handle "alone time," we help ensure they are prepared for times when they may have to be left in a kennel situation, taken care of by strangers, or we're much later than usual getting home from work.
If you want to help your dog learn to cope better when being alone, start doing 3 things.
1. Stop making a huge fuss about your coming and going from the house. Too much focus on the dog during those times makes your absence more pronounced. It creates a bigger contrast in their mind between you being home and you being gone. For the 10 minutes prior to leaving the house and the 10 minutes after you arrive home, ignore the dog and simply go about your routine. Paying attention to an excited state of mind (like barking, whining, and pawing for attention) will only get you more of those behaviors. Either ignore them and walk away or interrupt them by giving your dog something else to focus on like an obedience command (Down/Place).
2. Give your dog something to DO that entertains them. Set up the dog with problems to solve and something to think about (other than your leaving). Using puzzles or games to redirect your dog's mental state make your going out the door something to look forward to rather than a tense situation. Stuff a rubber toy with something tasty (it could be the dog's breakfast mixed with some yogurt or applesauce), or hide a couple of treats around the house and teach the dog she gets to go look for them as soon as you leave. Make sure there are chew toys available and rather than having dozens of them freely available at all times, rotate just a few of the toys weekly so that the items seem "new" to the dog when they reappear.
3. Provide more exercise. I'm fond of saying "a tired dog is a good dog." Tired dogs don't get into much mischief -- they are ready to take a nap. Ask yourself if you are really doing an adequate job exercising your dog based on their health, breed and age. Can you do more? Get up 30 minutes earlier for a good, brisk walk, or a game of fetch in the back yard. Just do it. You're dog will have less energy to devote to constantly pestering you for attention.
If your dog has already developed serious issues when left alone, you may need to find professional help. Activities like self-mutilation or vigorous attempts to get out of the crate or through the door or window indicate the need for professional intervention.
Contact your veterinarian to find a trainer or behaviorist in your area to work with or take a look here to find a trainer in your area.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.