Top Ten Tools to Help Deal with Separation Anxiety
I adopted a 1-1/2 year-old small female pit bull mix from a couple who were neglecting her. She is very sweet but has a habit of whining whenever I leave her sight. I thought it might get better after I’d had her for a while but it’s been weeks now and no change. I take her with me as many places as I can (even to work) to give her a sense of security but her behavior stays the same. Is there anything I can do?
Although your best course of action is to find a professional trainer to visit your home and evaluate the situation, it does sound a lot like separation anxiety. There is a step-by-step protocol for separation anxiety. It entails getting your dog used to your departures and returns. A professional trainer can show you how this is done.
Normally it takes a dog thirty or so days to acclimate to a new environment. Since dogs thrive on routines with positive outcomes and their being able to predict daily occurrences, you may find the situation improving as she gets use to your lifestyle and relaxes more and more. You can help speed this process along by trying to maintain a daily routine of quality times that include training (which will help the bonding process, build trust and instill confidence), exercise and just hanging out together. Massaging your dog while you both relax will really help.
There are some immediate steps you can take without the trainer, however. First and foremost is setting up the environment for safety so your dog can’t destroy any property, escape, and/or somehow injure herself. Also, make sure your vet has given her a clean bill of health. Here are the Top Ten tools to use to help deal with separation anxiety:
1. Practice leaving and returning throughout the day, especially on weekends when you can practice more often, so she can never predict when you might be gone for longer periods. For example, when a commercial comes on, get up and go out one door, count one-thousand-and-one and immediately return. Don’t say anything when you leave or when you come back. It’s no big deal. If you have another door, when the next commercial comes on, go out that door and immediately come back. As the days go by, progress to staying out-of-sight for more and more seconds. Sometimes you’ll then go out one door and come in the other. Over time, progress to getting in your car and opening and closing the door and then returning. Further, drive down the block and walk back to your house. This will help break the association of your leaving with the sound of the car.
2. Lower your affect when you leave and come home. This is one of the most important ingredients. It means that when you leave, either say nothing or offer a simple, unemotional “see you later”. When you come home, ignore her for ninety seconds or so (this might be difficult in the beginning!) and allow her to let the adrenaline subsides just a little. Pay attention to her when she is just a bit more relaxed.
3. Change your departure routines. Dogs predict what’s about to happen by making associations. So leave by a different door, put your keys somewhere so they don’t make a sound, go through the door earlier and then return and eat breakfast, etc.
4. Turn the tv or radio on 30 minutes before you leave. Classical, New Age and even Country music works best. There is also a dvd called “Through a Dog’s Ear” that some people have found helpful.
5. Tire your dog out by providing more exercise before you go to work.
6. Give her a treat-filled “Kong” or treat ball to keep her busy and take her mind off you leaving. But do so at least 15 minutes before you leave so she doesn’t associate the treat ball with you leaving. Many times a dog is most distressed during the first twenty minutes of a person leaving. Giving her something to do during this time period often helps.
7. Have a dog walker / sitter stop by before the stress is triggered. Or, if she gets along with other dogs, find a doggie day care where she can have fun or keep herself relaxed.
8. There is a dog-appeasing pheromone that helps relax some dogs. As it is inexpensive and very easy to use, you can experiment with it. It is called DAP and is diffused in the air by plugging the diffuser into any electric outlet. Experiment when you can observe results as it doesn’t work for all dogs and in some rare cases, some dogs have a negative reaction.
9. There are also some holistic therapies such as Bach Flower remedies, herbal aids and aroma therapy which have proven effective for many dogs. I have found two products effective for roughly 50% of dogs: Nutracalm and Composure. Do a search. Again, no product works for all dogs and some dogs have negative reactions.
10. For severe cases, there are pharmacological aids. These are prescribed by your veterinarian and are temporary aids used until your dog learns to relax as the behavior modification takes effect. Obviously, speak with your veterinarian, but here is a drug many vets say to avoid: http://fearfuldogs.com/acepromazine/ .
Bonus: And another great product for anxiety that I have used with many dogs, including my own is called a Thundershirt.