At times it may seem like you own two different dogs when you really only have one. Is the following a familiar scenario for you? When you are at home, your dog is very well behaved. He listens to your commands, only chews on bones and other doggie toys and barks only when you ask him to “speak”. However, he transforms into a completely different animal when you leave him home alone! He tears up furniture, chews up your clothes, scratches at doors and barks incessantly.
It may sound like something right out of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but most likely your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. One of the most common causes of canine behavior problems, separation anxiety occurs when your dog has a severe dislike or fear of being isolated. In addition to being stressful for both dogs and their owners, the condition can often put a strain on our relationships with our four-legged best friends.
Separation anxiety in dogs is a condition largely misunderstood by humans. We tend to look at everything from a human point of view, even when it comes to our dogs. But they don’t think in the same way as we do.
When we view the problem of separation anxiety in the home environment, we notice many factors that contribute to it. One is called passive dominance—that is, allowing the dog to train the owner to perform a variety of commands for him. One example is when your dog asks to be let outside several times a day, only to change his mind and decide he didn’t really need to go out after all. He was simply checking on your training. He may request to be petted constantly, again testing to see if you will do what he requests. Another way in which dogs manipulate for leadership is by being first to answer the door, first when going for a walk, or first just walking room to room. Dogs place much emphasis on who leads the pack—literally.
To treat separation anxiety, owners must express leadership toward their dogs in a canine way. Most owners overindulge their dogs, whether the dog is dominant or timid. The owner provides food, shelter, entertainment and love, but provides no leadership.
Owners need to practice separating themselves from their dog when they are home. We have dogs because we love so many things about them, especially their companionship. However, if separation anxiety is an issue for your dog, then you need to practice this while you are at home. Do not allow your dog to stick to you like glue. Make him stay in another room on a doggy bed, or put him outside and scatter some food over the back lawn to keep him occupied. Also, crate your dog for short periods when you are home and at night so you can monitor his behavior.
The crate is an excellent tool for training, if used correctly. Some owners put their dogs in the crate only when they are leaving, so the dog views it as a sad, unpleasant place. If you have been doing this, make a simple change—acclimate your dog to the crate so that he sees it as a safe haven. Place comfy bedding and favorite toys in his crate, and continue to crate him periodically until he looks at it as his shelter, even entering the crate on his own.
Dogs with behavioral problems are not happy dogs. They suffer stress just as we do and express it through their behavior or through physical ailments. The cycle needs to be broken so that your dog can relax, sit back and feel content knowing you are the leader and his pack is safe.
Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com.