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Cure Separation Anxiety in Your Dog – Help For Owners of Older Dogs

People who adopt rescue dogs rarely know the dog’s history. Was he completely abandoned? Did he ever bond with his former owner? Was there abuse and therefore distrust of people? The thing is, you’ll never know if your newly adopted friend will suffer from separation anxiety until they settle down and you start disappearing every day. So it’s best to be prepared if it starts showing all the classic symptoms.

Most of us are creatures of habit. And, this quality often comes into play as we begin our “go to work” or “go to school” morning rituals. Make the coffee, take a shower, collect our keys, our briefcase or bag, coat, hat, maybe warm up the car. Then, after all that, you’re out the door and leaving. And your dog is left wondering when, if even, you’ll walk through that door again. Panic sets in, leading to intense anxiety and some or all of the classic symptoms – panting, nervous pacing, chewing on anything on the spot, digging at the door to escape and catch up with you, incessant barking, whining, loss of bladder control.

It’s not a pretty situation for your dog to be in day in and day out. And, it may not be a pretty state of your home upon your return.

I see no point in going into the causes of separation anxiety, as the treatment I have found to be successful and recommend you try would be the same regardless.

I suggest combining crate training with desensitization training. Both will require some effort on your part as well as your dog’s, but the reward will be well worth the time it takes to get it right. I request you to refer to another article I posted on this site called – Rescue Dog Training – Crate training is gentle, not harsh. In this article I explain the best methods to acclimate your dog to his crate to the point where he really looks forward to time in his safe haven.

But, maybe it’s best to spend a few words about the cage just to ease any guilt you may feel about “imprisoning” your dog in a steel wire box. Remember, your dog’s ancestors and his modern relatives in the Canedae family wolves and foxes — use caves and dens to find shelter from danger or when they just need a quiet place to relax. Make your dog’s “cave” big enough for him to stand and turn around in, and you’ll find that he’ll eventually wander in there on his own just for some quiet downtime. Hopefully, your reluctance to crate train as part of your separation anxiety treatment has subsided. So let’s move on to the desensitization or conditioning training.

Remember those rituals I mentioned above before you leave home for an extended absence? Well, there’s a good chance your dog notices them to the point where he associates abandonment with these rituals. Once he notices your first morning ritual, he may start showing the classic separation anxiety symptoms I mentioned earlier. Panting or barking, following you everywhere, or he may even disappear, preferring to hide until his anticipated fear comes true. Then panic will prevail.

Our goal with desensitization training will be to reverse the association your dog places on these morning rituals. We will turn negative associations into positive or at least neutral associations.[The techniques described below assume you have not yet gone through crate training, since its best to eliminate separation anxiety BEFORE crate training].

Start next weekend. Get up as if you were going about your daily routine. Go through all the rituals. Never make a big fuss when you leave. Don’t hug the dog. Walk out the door as you would Monday through Friday. Even start your car. But this time, instead of walking away, you’ll wait five minutes and go home.

Don’t make a big fuss, just go get a treat to give your dog (after he “sits”) and some praise for being a good boy or girl. If time permits, do this several times every Saturday and Sunday until you begin to notice positive results. Each time increase the time by five or ten minutes. The point is to impress upon your dog that you leaving isn’t forever and is actually a positive event (he gets a treat and some praise upon your return – whether it’s been five minutes or 8 hours).

Here’s another tip to help you achieve the ultimate goal of peace of mind when you leave. Try making a morning walk part of your dog’s routine. Well-exercised dogs spend more of their idle time resting than panicking. A morning walk will do you a lot of good, I bet.

Once you notice that your dog is handling your departures much better with less stress and anxiety, begin your crate training. Again, please refer to my article Rescue Dog Training – Crate training is gentle, not harsh which will explain how to acclimate your dog to spending time in the crate.

It is recommended that you perform the same procedures as soon as you begin crate training. Go through your normal morning routines, leave, then come back 5 minutes later. Spend some time at home before releasing your dog from the crate. DO NOT make a big fuss as he leaves the crate nor should you give him a treat at this time. Otherwise, he will perceive that being outside the cage is better than being inside the cage. Wait a few moments before giving him a treat and some petting and even a few “Good boys”. Do this routine several weekends in a row and make your absence a little longer each time.

Eventually, because of your persistent desensitization and crate training, you will be able to leave the crate door open and he will come and go as he pleases, knowing that you will eventually return.

A few closing comments. If you are away much longer than eight hours each day, you may want to consider placing your dog in a doggy daycare center. This will be good for your dog and good for you knowing you’ll be picking up a happy, tired, well-adjusted pooch at the end of the day.

If you have an extreme case of separation anxiety, you may want to take medication prescribed by your vet. But I would do it as a last resort. If you are consistent and patient with your training, you should find success.

Make sure you are an experienced dog owner who has excellent guidelines to help you correct any negative behavior your dog may exhibit during its long, happy life. Please visit my website listed below to read the two resources I have found to be most helpful.

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