Dealing with separation anxiety
Dogs are often described as "man's best friend," but like any good friendship, owners and dogs must learn to respect each other's boundaries and space. Some canines can grow overly attached to their owners and begin to display signs of separation anxiety in dogs. A dog with this condition may become nervous, anxious or even aggressive when the owner is not nearby, making it difficult to leave him alone.
Other clinical signs of separation anxiety include the animal constantly following you around the house, becoming excited when you leave or arrive, urinating or causing destruction in the house while you are away and general signs of anxiety such as becoming withdrawn, shaking and whimpering.
Separation anxiety is a common but complex problem for dogs. Owners who believe their dog is suffering from separation anxiety should talk with their veterinarian about possible ways to change this behavior. It may even be helpful for the owner to set up a video camera while they are away from the house, so the exact behaviors that are occurring can be identified, discussed and treated.
Like many other behavioral issues in dogs, separation anxiety can be overcome with proper training, though it may be difficult to do so if the dog is exhibiting severe signs of the issue. Establishing a predictable routine is the first step in breaking separation anxiety, reports VCA Animal Hospitals. If the dog begins to expect that it will be alone at certain times of the day, it will become easier for the animal to handle these periods of time. Assign certain parts of the day for exercise or play with the dog.
When coming up with the routine, determine which activities require your full, undivided attention, and which do not. You should also be sure that these periods are broken up throughout the day. For example, playing with your dog requires your attention, and a dog that is overly attached will look forward to this. Letting the dog play outside by itself, on the other hand, would be a time when the dog needs to learn to be on its own. By enforcing these "together" and "separate" times throughout the day, the dog will gradually become accustomed to being away from you.
Scheduling is not the only way to deal with separation anxiety. The animal also learns through a system of rewards. Many owners think of "reward" as being a food or treat, but it can also be the owner's attention if that's what the dog is craving. It might be tough, but in trying to break separation anxiety, you should never "reward" overly needy behaviors such as constant following or excitement with your attention. Instead, be sure the dog knows you will not be paying it attention or giving a treat until he is calm or settled. One way to do this is through commands - make the dog "sit" before play begins or before you give him a treat to reinforce the fact that it must be completely calm before he will get what he wants.