By Tristan Clark DVM
You leave home and come back to a house destroyed: pillows torn apart, couch stuffing strew upon the floor and entire doors are now splinters. The culprit? Your wonderful and energetic canine companion, relived at your return. Or maybe your dog isn’t being physically destructive but barks or yowls non-stop while you’re away. Maybe potty accidents always seem to occur when they’re left alone.
Why? Well first it’s important to realize that not all misbehavior during our absence is due to separation anxiety. Rather, some pets are acting out of boredom, are scavenging for food or are just exuberant in how they play and chew. Puppies in particular are notorious chewers when your back is turned. Maybe your canine would react better to increased stimulation or food while you’re away, accomplished by filling a hollow toy with peanut butter or placing their kibble in a roll-a-round puzzle cube.
However, pets that are truly experiencing separation anxiety tend to act out once they perceive their owner departing. Often they learn the cues of when the owner is preparing to leave, such as putting on socks or shoes, jiggling keys or even by the words owners repeatedly say when getting ready to depart. Eliminating or repeating these cues over and over without actually leaving can desensitize a dog with enough training.
Other strategies include enriching your dog’s environment and rewarding only calm behavior. Removing the dog from the trouble area and/or adapting your dog to a crate are effective strategies. With crate training, the pet must become familiar and conditioned to staying in the crate, learning that the crate is a safe place over several weeks of training. Start by placing your pet in the crate with some treats for short periods of time while you stay within sight. Overtime, slowly increase the duration of being crated while gradually decreasing your own presence.
Pharmaceuticals can also aid in re-training your dog but remember that drugs alone will not work to change your pet’s behavior and work best while simultaneously working on a behavior modification plan. If you have further questions about any of these ideas, feel free to bring your pet in to Copper Hill Animal Clinic for an exam!