Ask the Trainer | Does Rocky suffer from separation anxiety?
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Dear Carla,
We adopted our dog Rocky a year ago. I work at home so most of the time there is someone home with him, but occasionally we do need to leave him home alone. He seems really nervous when we leave him and it makes us feel very guilty. Luckily, he has never chewed or destroyed anything when heand#8217;s alone. Is he okay or should we be concerned that he has separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a term that is frequently mis-used and mis-understood. A dog with separation anxiety experiences a total sense of panic when left alone and this panic often results in destructive behavior. For some dogs this panic is so extreme the only way to help them cope is medication.
In Rockyand#8217;s case, he may have never been taught how to be alone. One reason we love living with dogs is that they love living with us! Pack animals like dogs are hard-wired to depend on their pack (or family) for safety and security. When a member of the pack is out of sight, their natural instinct is to be alert until they return. To help our dogs live comfortably in a human world, we need to teach them that itand#8217;s okay for members of the pack to leave because they will come home again.
First you need to do a simple test to determine how stressed Rocky is when you leave. Get him a really good bone or make a Kong stuffed with good treats then give it to him when you are home to be sure he really likes it. Now give the same thing to him when you leave. Did he eat it while you were gone? If not, then he was stressed. If a dog doesnand#8217;t feel safe, he will stop eating and if this is the case, then you need to start gradually doing home alone exercises. Leave Rocky for very short periods of time, always varying the length, but gradually increasing the time. When you leave do not make a fuss, just leave. The same is true when you return, in fact I recommend completely ignoring him when you walk in. If he jumps or otherwise seeks attention, do not touch or even make eye contact. Any interaction can reward his anxious attention-seeking behavior. Once he is calm, call him to you and calmly say hi. You should also try to vary your routine before leaving the house. Dogs are masters at tracking our routines and they know exactly what we do before we leave. This can result in increased anxiety before we ever walk out the door.
Amazing research has been done by Joshua Leeds, an expert in the area of psychoacoustics (music and sound therapy) that is specifically targeted at dogs. Leeds worked with Juilliard trained classical pianist, Lisa Spector to develop special music designed to calm and relax canines. Animal shelters across the country successfully use this music to help shelter dogs relax. You can learn more and order the music at http://www.throughadogsear.com.
and#8212; If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email Carla Brown at email@example.com