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Back To School Blues -- Avoiding Separation Anxiety

The following tips come from the article, "Beat Back-To-School Blues: Easily train your dog to accept being alone" by Pat Miller, in the Sept. 2001 issue of Your Dog (Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine).

Dogs are pack animals -- it's natural for them to want to be with other canine or human companions. If the family's schedule changes and a dog finds herself alone for longer periods, she may experience anxiety.

Velcro pals: What if the dog is best friends with a family member who is going back to school or away from home more often?

* First, work on getting the dog to calmly accept the pal's absence for short periods. Hold her on a leash while the favorite person leaves the room for a few seconds. Calmly feed the dog treats to distract her from concern about her pal's departure and to help her associate the pal's absence with something good happening. Use especially wonderful treats to help the dog make this association.

* Maintain a matter-of-fact attitude about the process instead of getting dramatic and consoling the dog, which will just convince her there's reason to be upset.

* When the dog can handle the favorite person's absence for several seconds in a calm manner, increase the length of time the pal stays in another room or outside. Once the dog starts looking to you for the treats instead of displaying worry about her favorite person's disappearance, you're ready to remove yourself from the room as well. Leave the dog with a supply of treats stuffed in a Kong, Buster Cube, Roll-A-Treat Ball or another interactive toy. Then step out of the room briefly, followed by departures of longer periods as her tolerance for being alone increases.

* Some dogs suffer from an extreme panic reaction, known as separation anxiety, when left alone. This can be manifested in barking, howling, chewing, clawing doors or rugs, inappropriate urination and defecation, and/or other undesirable behaviors.

Writes Ms. Miller: "The dog isn't destroying your house to get even with you for leaving him -- he's massively stressed about being alone. His behavior is simply his attempt to relieve his stress and escape his prison. In fact, his chewing may actually release endorphins -- naturally occurring brain chemicals that have a soothing effect."

* While crating is often recommended for unsupervised dogs before the dog is housetrained, crating can be overly stressful (and therefore, counter-productive) if the dog has severe separate anxiety. Seek the counsel of a qualified behaviorist for help.

* It's not reasonable to expect a dog to routinely "hold it" for much longer than 8 hours. Young dogs might be physically able "hold it" only 2 to 4 hours. Try not to leave a dog alone for unreasonably long periods.

Helpful alternatives include:

* Enlist an at-home neighbor.
* Take your dog to work.
* Hire a pet sitter to visit mid-day; perhaps for two visits on days when you have to work longer hours.
* Consider doggie day care for social dogs.
* Try day boarding for less social dogs; the dogs get walks and stay in large kennel runs.

Webpages about Separation Anxiety:

http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/SeparationAnxiety.php www.wonderpuppy.net/canwehelp/dbfear.htm

For more Dog Tips and other information about pet care, adoption and the work PAW does, visit our website at:

Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport