Separation Anxiety or Boredom?
The scenes above describe two very different dogs. The first dog - who so graciously made artwork of your new favorite item was left alone, probably with little to keep his mind occupied, perhaps not having received quite enough exercise that morning, turned to his own devices to find something to entertain himself. This dog most likely does NOT suffer from any illness, other than being bored and looking for trouble. Let's address some possible solutions for this feisty fido before we turn to the more serious of the problems. Here are some of our favorite tips for keeping your dog out of trouble while you're away:
1. Make sure your dog gets the exercise she needs before leaving her home (a quick session of fetch in the backyard, a short training session before breakfast, a morning jog, or perhaps even a good long morning walk may be just what your dog needs).
2. Leave your dog with mental exercise toys (some of our favorites include a frozen, stuffed Kong, a treat dispensing Bob-a-lot, or a Busy Buddy Tug-a-Jug, just do name a few).
3. If you're going to be gone for several hours, do your dog (and your home) a favor and book a professional dog walker to come mid-day to get your pooch out for exercise, attention, mental stimulation, and a potty break.
4. Create a "safe space" - despite having access to your full house while you are away, your dog does not make use of the full house, or feel particularly loved just because you allow him to roam wherever he may. Rather, create a safe room or couple of rooms, where you have picked up items that your dog may chew and make it his "safe space" where his favorite toys are, and where there aren't items that could get him into trouble.
5. For dogs particularly prone to boredom destruction, crate training is magic! You'll need to be sure to crate train your dog using positive reinforcement to help him love his to "dog cave" and show him that the very best treats are always delivered in there (who wouldn't love a place where peanut butter and apple-stuffed kongs are always delivered fresh). Crates can keep your dog safe, as well as your home (as long as they are used for reasonable amounts of time, and after a dog has been exercised and had an opportunity to relieve himself).
Now, on to the more serious concern of separation anxiety, if you have ruled out boredom behaviors. Canine separatino anxieety is a set of behaviors that occurs in some dogs when their owners or "family" are not present. These behaviors include "destruction, vocalization, elimination of urine and/or stool, anorexia, drooling, attempts at ecape, and/or behavioral depression," according to Debra F. Horowitz, DVM, as state in her article "Separation Anxiety in Dogs" (Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, 2001). As mentioned earlier, some of these symptoms can be caused by boredom, lack of exercise, or incomplete house training. They may also be indicative of a medical issue. If a dog exhibits any of these symptoms it is important to work with a veterinary behaviorist who is able to both medically evaluate the dog for any potential health issues, while also addressing the behavioral issue. Veterinary behaviorists can then prescribe a combination of medication as well as effective behavior modification techniques, depending upon the severity of the condition.
Sandy Paws Dog Training is available to help you assess the situation with your dog and help determine what sort of plan will be necesary to assist you with your dog's behavioral issues. If you are located in Branford, Guilford, Madison, or along the CT shoreline and looking for a dog trainer, we are here for you. If necessary, we know the best veterinary behaviorists to refer you to and will assist you through the process.