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Understanding and Overcoming Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety is a common behavioural issue in dogs, characterised by distress and problematic behaviours when a dog is left alone. Symptoms can range from excessive barking, destructive chewing, to even attempts to escape. Addressing this issue requires patience, consistency, and understanding of the dog's emotional state. 

Separation anxiety occurs when dogs become excessively anxious when separated from their owners or left in isolation. There are several factors that may contribute to dogs developing separation anxiety including early life experiences, genetics, traumatic life events, changes in routine and health issues. Dogs are naturally social animals, and some may develop an insecure attachment to their owners, making solitude distressing.

Recognising the Signs

Common signs of separation anxiety include:

Vocalisation: Excessive barking, whining, or howling.

Destructive behaviour: Chewing and ripping apart furniture, doors, or other objects.

House soiling: Urinating or defecating inside the house.

Pacing: Walking or trotting along a path in a fixed pattern.

Escape attempts: Trying to escape from the home or crate.

Self Mutilation: causing injury to themselves through excessive chewing or licking of body parts.

If your dog exhibits these behaviours primarily when left alone, they likely suffer from separation anxiety.

Effective training can alleviate separation anxiety and help your dog feel more secure. Here are some things to consider to help your dog:

  • Gradual desensitisation involves slowly getting your dog accustomed to being alone. Start by leaving your dog alone for short periods, gradually increasing the duration as they become more comfortable. Work at your dog’s pace.

  • Ensure you meet your dogs’  needs daily. Ensure your dog gets plenty of physical and mental exercise before you begin your training. You want your dog to be happy and satisfied hence readied to rest.

  • Allow your dog to choose their own safe space within the house. Dogs that suffer with separation anxiety often suffer with confinement too. Allow your dog room to move around and find their own resting spot.

  • Learn to read your dog’s body language. Separation anxiety is not always loud. Some dogs suffer in silence therefore learning to read your dog’s subtle signs of discomfort will enable you to progress through your training quicker.

  • Use a camera to monitor your dog. Having an eye on your dog will ensure they are comfortable at all times and are not exposed to undue distress.

  • Consider seeking help from a professional. A certified dog trainer specialising in separation anxiety can provide invaluable assistance. These professionals have the expertise to develop tailored training plans that address the specific needs of your dog. They use evidence-based techniques to reduce anxiety and can offer guidance on the most effective strategies for your situation.

The Importance of a Certified Trainer

Working with a certified trainer is paramount, especially in separation anxiety cases.

These trainers will:

  • Understand the nuances of dog behaviour and anxiety.

  • Provide customised training plans based on the individual dog's needs.

  • Offer ongoing support and adjustments to the training regimen as necessary.

  • Utilise advanced techniques and expertise that may not be readily available to dog owners.

Certified dog trainers and veterinary behaviourists can also help determine if medication or other interventions might be necessary in conjunction with a behaviour modification plan. Their knowledge and experience ensures that your dog receives the most effective and humane treatment possible.

Training a dog with separation anxiety requires dedication and empathy. With the right approach, and the guidance of a certified  trainer, you can help your dog overcome their fears and enjoy a more relaxed and happy life.

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