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By Sarah Taylor

Dealing with a dog's separation anxiety

People worry about kids' separation anxiety when it's time for mom to go back to work or when the kids are old enough for school, but few worry about their dog having similar fears. They often consider it as bad manners and get upset or even give up their pet to another person or a shelter. There are ways to help your dog get through a hard time in their life. They can overcome it but only with the owner's help.

Is it a medical condition or just bad behavior?

Monitor your dogs' physical conditions and symptoms. They're an open book when it comes to showing you how they feel. However, some conditions happen only when the owner's gone, so you may need help from a friend or family member or even set up a camera to visually see what your dog's doing after you leave. Symptoms may include, but aren't limited to, barking/howling, pacing, digging, attempting to escape, chewing, urinating and following the owner to every room. Some symptoms may result in injury, so take immediate action if you notice your dog acting anxious.

Take everything into consideration when figuring out why your dog has these problems. Go through them one by one and eliminate the ones that likely have other explanations; urinating, for example, can be the result of medications your dog is taking for health reasons. Sometimes things like this can be explained, so ask your vet and talk it over. Some urinating can be the result of excitement from playing, being greeted or incomplete house training.

Dogs get bored, so giving them an interactive toy to keep them busy can make a big difference. Some continued training or even counter-conditioning training can be all they need. Counter conditioning is taking an animal's fear of something and changing it into something good. Teaching them to enjoy their alone time while their owners are away takes consistent training.

Leaving isn't a big deal-don't make it one

Owners can sometimes be the cause of their pet's separation anxiety, and don't even notice. Dogs read our actions and act on them. This is why you can't show them attention when they're misbehaving; it gives them attention and that's their goal. You can fix this with some things to help your dog's anxiety. Take your dog for a walk before leaving to let some energy out ; if they still show anxiety, give them that toy to keep them distracted. Giving rewards when you're leaving can let them know that it isn't a bad thing and over time can reassure them that you'll be back.

There are two types of anxiety that your dog may have-simulated anxiety and true separation anxiety. Simulated is fake. They know what's going on and they know they'll get attention by acting out. With true anxiety, they show true emotions and actions when you leave. Just pay attention to their actions and reactions because how you fix it depends on which type they have. Simulated can easily be fixed with obedience training and strong leadership, while true anxiety will take time.

You can ask your vet about some medication to ease your dog's anxiety, but this is not a cure. It is simply to help you and your pet while you're trying to ease them out of their anxiety. It doesn't fix anything; it just prolongs the effects, and they'll continue until you step in and get your dog back on track.

Loud when leaving, escaping and destruction

Dogs usually bark when their owner leaves. They don't want to see you go. It's sweet but it can also be the cause of deeper problems. Barking can become an issue for other people living in the home as well as for neighbors. Dogs can also try to escape by scratching at doors and windows and even digging out of the yard. They act out as a way to get attention, causing them to be destructive by chewing on things like shoes, pillows and other household items. The owner can help them by staying calm and not acting excited or nervous when having to leave, giving them a treat so they can realize that leaving isn't a bad thing.

Learning from the master

Dogs need a leader. They don't know what's right and wrong without being trained correctly; this is often when they start to act out and misbehave. During training and correcting, you have to be stern so they know you're serious and the message gets across. They can read actions. If they don't feel that you're being serious about training, they won't listen and will continue misbehaving. There are different ways to help train your dog to help with anxiety; crate training may be a simple answer but it still takes stern training.

You can train your dog to stay in a crate while you're gone, but do it gradually. Start out by only leaving them alone in there for a few minutes. Reward them, and gradually build their time up to an hour alone inside the crate. If needed, you can give them a bone to chew on to help distract them but be careful with giving them water as this will only cause a mess to clean up. It should be a safe place for a dog to rest while you're gone, not a prison.

Teach your dog to be patient, and to wait to be greeted until you're ready. If you come home and your dog is being loud and not sitting or behaving, don't give them attention. Complete your tasks and wait until they settle down to give them attention. If they are calm and good, then still complete your tasks but smile or wave to show them that you've noticed. Don't reward misbehavior.

Anxiety in shelter dogs or strays

Dogs want to be loved and noticed just like other living things. Take that away and they can develop anxiety issues and become afraid of being left alone. To them, five minutes can feel like hours, so it's important to work with your dog and help them to love their alone time. Dogs remember people and things that happen to them, good or bad. You have to watch behavior and actions if you decide to adopt a dog or take in a stray; they don't know how to handle new people so soon after losing someone close to them.

People think dogs do things just because they don't want to listen or are too much trouble to train, but really there are always reasons why they act the way they do. Separation anxiety tends to be the result of losing their loved one either by death or having to be re-homed or even pure abandonment. Some people are more willing than others to work with these dogs. Depending on what's happened in their lives, some dogs' anxiety is more severe than others. Sometimes it just requires an owner's training; other times it takes a trained professional to lend a hand.

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