Dear Miss Behavior: Our dog cries and barks all day when we’re gone. We keep her in a crate now because she tore up all the couch cushions. At first, I thought she was being spiteful because we left her, but someone says she has separation anxiety. What does that mean and how can we cure her?
Separation anxiety is when a dog becomes very scared when they are left alone. They’ll often destroy things in the house and even possibly hurt themselves. Treating separation anxiety takes patience and training.
Sometimes a bored dog can be misdiagnosed as having separation anxiety. If it’s boredom, then having a long walk and a training session before you go to work should help lessen the behavior issues. Taking a Good Dog Level 1 class should help you and your dog learn some new behaviors to practice.
If it is Separation anxiety, then you need to work on ‘Counter Classical Conditioning’. CCC is pairing something very good with something that the dog perceives as bad. The idea of CCC is breaking down your routine when you leave. Do you get out your Gucci bag first? Put on your Burberry raincoat? Take the keys to your BMW off the hook by the door? Whatever the first step is, over a period of time (say a Saturday morning) do the first step, give your dog a treat and then stop. Put your purse back down or hang your keys back up. Do it again. Once your dog is no longer upset with the first step, then do step one, then step two, rewarding her with good treats before she gets upset. Keep going until you are ready to leave the house. The first time you leave, just go out the door, and come right back in. Slowly build time until she’s okay with you being gone a few minutes.
You’ll also need to take steps to make sure that while you’re training your dog to be at home, you don’t leave her alone. If you have to leave the house you might take her with you or take her to a dog-daycare.
Some dogs require medical help. You may need to start with a visit to the vet and see if an anti-anxiety medication is needed.
Since it’s hard to diagnose a serious behavior issue by email, be sure to ask the trainers at the Greater Lincoln Obedience Club for more advice. You might also find the booklet I’ll be home soon by Patricia
McConnell of help. She gives some great information that’ll help you to understand the process.
Thanks to this feature goes to Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, who ran the Miss Behavior Dog Advice Column in their newsletter. Appreciation also is extended to Marcy Graybill, a trainer at GLOC and the expert behind this column. She also hosts her own blog, Dog Log, where she talks about training adventures with her dogs.