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Don't Leave Your Pet Alone or He Will Eat Your House

TFrazao is a registered Veterinary Practitioner for ten years and a Comp. Science Master recent grad. She believes in the fusion of things.

Attentive dog surrounded by pieces of destroyed clothes and other house fabrics.

Attentive dog surrounded by pieces of destroyed clothes and other house fabrics.

Separation anxiety is a constant fear that dogs have from being separated from their owners. If you experienced a panic attack, this is the same experience that can damage the quality of life for dogs and humans. It is an experience of ultimate despair. When the owner leaves the house, dogs can exhibit some destructive problems such as destruction, for example, of sofas, walls, shoes, and so on, barking, whining, excessive salivation, and inappropriate elimination.

There are some do's and don'ts that owners can do or do not try to minimize this situation. Sometimes the owners are not aware that some behaviors they have towards the dog may make anxiety worse.


Anxiety separation wallpaper destruction.

Anxiety separation wallpaper destruction.

What can you do?

The owners can encourage the dog to be able to be all by himself without exhibiting destructive behaviors.
So, what can you do?

  • Ignore the dog upon arrival - When arriving at the house, you should avoid interacting or acknowledge the dog for more or less 30 minutes. This means no petting or playing with your dog. This will give the time for the dog to be in a more relaxed state. If you don't do this, the dog will associate your arrival with high levels of excitement. In turn, this can cause stress and nervousness to your dog. The goal is to be calm and interact with a calm pet.
  • Ignore the dog before leaving the house - You should also do this 30 minutes before departure. I mean that you can pet your dog and so on but not in the 30 minutes period. It is important not to leave the house with a pet who is in an excited state. As said before, we want a calm pet. If you don't do this, you will reinforce the anxious behavior.
  • Do behavior modification exercises with your dog - The most common one I tell pet owners to do is increase departure time. This means that when you leave the house, the dog stays behind, which creates anticipation in his mind. He will be waiting for you behind the door. The trick here is to leave the house for small periods of time. For example, you leave your dog alone for five minutes, then you come back, next you leave for ten minutes and come back next thirty minutes, and so on. You can do this exercise until you can leave him for more than a few hours. Ideally, leaving him for the same amount of time when you are working. He will start to associate that his owner will come back, so he doesn't need to be anxious after all. You can do this, for example, during weekends, but I guarantee it will help a lot in a long time.
  • Give a distraction to your pet before leaving the house - a few minutes before departure, you can give a toy stuffed with treats to distract the dog from seeing you leaving the house. I also advise owners to leave a radio on in a station where people are talking.
  • Leave your house calmly and not say goodbye to your dog - the goal is to leave the dog distracted and calm. If you say effusive goodbyes to your dog, everything you have done so far won't have a behavioral effect.
  • Leave the house with your dog tired - providing regular exercises in the form of walks and plays, as happens with people, reduces anxiety by decreasing the dog's focus on the owner.

What should you never do?

Summing up, what you shouldn't do is to encourage behavior anymore.

  • You should not respond to a dog's attempts to get attention. It would help if you ignored behaviors like barking, whining, jumping up (figure 3), and pawing.
  • Don't look, talk, or touch your dog when he is exhibiting attention-seeking behaviors. Wait until he is calm.
  • When ignoring your dog, it is expected that behaviors may initially get worse and more physical but don't give up. Perseverance is key in behavior modification.
  • Don't punish your dog. It would be best if you never used physical or verbal punishment in response to destructive behavior or elimination. These behaviors are signs resulting from anxiety. If you let punishment come into play when you get nervous when you come home and have your things destroyed, it will increase the dog's anxiety level.
Figure 3. Trainer representing how to ignore a dog.

Figure 3. Trainer representing how to ignore a dog.

Is medication necessary?

Depending on the case. Sometimes medication is necessary to help your dog being calmer. However, I underline, medication doesn't work alone. It is always necessary to use it in conjunction with behavior modifications. For more medication information, you should consult your veterinarian.

Conclusion

A consultation with your veterinarian is mandatory to have an accurate diagnosis and a treatment-behavior plan. This can help many pets with separation anxiety to recover from the disorder and remain pleasantly at home.

References

  1. Simpson BSS. Canine separation anxiety. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet. 22:328-339, 2000.
  2. Horwitz, D. F. (2008, November). Separation Anxiety in Dogs. Clinician’s Brief. http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/article/separation-anxiety-dogs

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2020 DVM MSc Tania Frazao

Comments

DVM MSc Tania Frazao (author) from Lisbon on November 22, 2020:

Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate it! :)

DVM MSc Tania Frazao (author) from Lisbon on November 22, 2020:

Thank you for your feedback. I appreciate it! :)

Ivana Divac from Serbia on November 21, 2020:

Great article! I love the tips, they are truly useful and insightful. Thanks for sharing!

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