Stopping separation anxiety with your pet at Helen Woodward Animal Center
RANCHO SANTA FE (KUSI) – Separation anxiety is when pets exhibit destructive or disruptive behaviors at home in conjunction with symptoms of stress.
Separation anxiety is triggered when animals are left alone without their family or those they are attached to.
Many things can lead to separation anxiety such as a change in family or guardian, change in schedule or residence, or a change in members of the household.
Jessica Gercke from Helen Woodward Animal Center joined Good Morning San Diego to discuss separation anxiety an to help your pets feeling that way.
SEPARATION ANXIETY INDICATORS:
(How does this differ from simple naughty behavior and a need for training?)
• Your pet’s disruptive or destructive behaviors will be combined with stress behaviors.
• STRESS BEHAVIORS TO LOOK FOR:
• Behaviors will often start when the pet realizes that their owner is preparing to leave so they will be recognizable before you walk out your door.
WAYS TO TREAT AND ADDRESS:
• COUNTERCONDITIONING: Good for mild separation anxiety.
This is a method of changing your pets association with certain activities so that you leaving becomes associated with something positive rather than something negative.
This typically is done with food by giving them treats, snacks, and meals they can take some time to eat while you’re away.
• DISTRACTING: Good for mild to moderate separation anxiety.
Often stuffing Kongs or giving your pet a puzzle to figure out will keep them occupied and allow them to have a better experience home alone.
• DESENSITIZATION: More serious separation anxiety requires more detailed approaches to counterconditioning.
(It’s important to discuss this with your veterinarian, trainer, or a behaviorist to choose a method that would work best.)
This type of therapy works in the following way…
A. Begin by leaving your pet’s sight but staying in the house. You can even put on your coat, pick up your purse and go into the bathroom while your dog continues to stay.
B. Over time, you can start to incorporate very short absences into your training.
(Start with absences that last only last one to two seconds, and then slowly increase the time you’re out of your dog’s sight.)
C. When you’ve trained up to separations of five to ten seconds long, build in counterconditioning by giving your dog a stuffed food toy just before you step out the door.
(The food-stuffed toy also works as a safety cue that tells the dog that this is a “safe” separation.)
D. You will need to spend a significant amount of time building up to 40-minute absences because most of your dog’s anxious responses will occur within the first 40 minutes that he’s alone.
This means that over weeks of conditioning, you’ll increase the duration of your departures by only a few seconds each session, or every couple of sessions, depending on your dog’s tolerance at each level.
• ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS WHILE WORKING ON DESENSITIZATION
(To have a real shot at making this work, your pet cannot be left alone until the training is done.)
o Arrange for a family member, friend or dog sitter to come to your home and stay with your dog when you’re not there. (Most dogs suffering from separation anxiety are fine as long as someone is with them. That someone doesn’t necessarily need to be you.)
o Take your dog to a sitter’s house or to a doggy daycare.
• IMPORTANT TIP: In addition to your graduated absences exercises, all greetings (hellos and goodbyes) should be conducted in a very calm manner.