Dealing with Fido's anxiety
Separation anxiety is no fun for pets or their owners.
Orange County certified professional dog trainer Shannon Thier describes separation anxiety for dogs as similar to a human having a panic attack, but for a dog “it lasts the whole time you’re gone.”
True separation anxiety will not resolve on its own and can require the assistance of a dog expert experienced in the issue. By the time pet owners find Thier, they’re often at wit’s end from their dog’s behavior – whether it be incessant barking, urinating, defecating, destroying furniture or other anxiety-based behaviors (Thier even had a client’s dog who jumped out of a second-story window.)
However, pet owners who have dogs with a more mild form of separation anxiety – “separation discomfort” or “separation blues” – may be able to benefit from some tools and tips suggested by Thier:
Most dog owners are probably familiar with Kong’s classic rubber chew and fetch toy. Fill the hollow toy with peanut butter, pumpkin, pureed chicken or some other delicious treat,and it easily transforms into a treat-dispensing toy that can be given to your dog to entertain himself while you’re gone. It can also be frozen with the treat inside to make it last longer. Kong Classic, $6.74-$15.36 depending on size, amazon.com
A good puzzle toy can be used to feed your dog his breakfast before you leave the house. This can help him work off some brain energy and reduce the anxiety for when you’re actually gone.
One such puzzle is DogMagic by Nina Ottosson, which consists of a cookie-cutter type circular board that can be filled with food and treats then covered with removable pieces. Your dog will expend substantial mental energy using his nose or paws to get to the hidden treats. DogMagic, $35.99, EarthWise Pet Supply in Huntington Beach
Pheromone products aim to mimic those natural chemical substances released by animals as a form of nonverbal communication. Dog Appeasing Pheromone Adaptil is one such product that mimics the pheromone that mothers emit after giving birth to their puppies, according to its website.
This may be soothing to stressed dogs, including some with separation discomfort. It comes in a collar, diffuser and spray. Diffuser, $37.75, petexpertise.com
Not only can music have a soothing effect on humans, but it may also help dogs. “Studies indicate that classical music has been shown to be the most calming,” says Thier, adding that her own dogs happen to be fans of reggae. Pop in some relaxing tunes and see how your dog reacts while you’re home. If it seems to help, try it while you’re out.
Don’t make a fuss
Make leaving the house and returning home as uneventful as possible. Just walking out the door and keeping things low-key may help reduce your dog’s anxiety. Same goes with getting home. Your dog may view excitement when you arrive as a sign that it really was a big deal that you were gone. “Make coming and going as nonchalant as possible,” Thier suggests.
Keep a journal
Try keeping a diary of when your dog is stressed and other relevant details. Is he more anxious when he doesn’t get his usual walk? Is there construction nearby causing a lot of noise? If he takes supplements or medicine, when are those given?
“Keeping a database of as much information about what is happening when the dog is visibly or audibly more stressed can enable the owner to pick up on patterns, and work to avoid those situations,” Thier says.
Get expert advice
Remember to be patient, but seek the advice of a professional if your dog’s behavior shows no improvement.
Thier recommends reading Malena De Martini-Price’s book “Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs.” She also advises owners to keep in mind the fact that dogs don’t do things out of anger or spite. If they are exhibiting unwanted behaviors when left alone, it’s either out of boredom (separation fun) or stress (separation anxiety).