If it’s a relatively mild case, you might be fine with some basic steps like spraying lavender, playing calming music, and/or giving chew toys, Kongs®, and other interactive toys. Maybe putting an anxiety wrap or ThunderShirt® on the dog or placing a towel or blanket over his crate will work. And always make sure your dog gets lots of exercise!
However, if your dog truly panics and loses control of bladder or does severe damage to the crate, your home, or themself, it can be a very difficult to “fix.” We’re frequently contacted by people who want to have their dog “trained” out of the separation anxiety, and the request is usually followed up with a comment like, “If we can’t get it fixed, we will have to get rid of the dog.”
We are not experts, but we see enough of cases to make some generalized suggestions.
A dog does not want to feel panic and distress. Imagine how awful it must feel for that dog. In those moments, the dog cannot physically stop or realize that they are harming themselves. However, there are ways to help the dog feel more secure, safe, and less anxious. It will take a lot of time, patience, and commitment. There is no magic wand fix that a dog trainer can use to teach the dog to stop being anxious. It’s not like teaching a dog to sit or heel. Most of the time, it comes down to owners learning how to manage the issue first because behavior adjustment training can take months or even years.
First, talk to your vet, and get Fido started on some medication. There are many choices, and some of them take weeks before you will even notice a change in behavior… or not. No one drug is right for all dogs; it can take months just to find the right drug or mix of drugs that will best work for your dog. Second, develop a plan to avoid leaving your dog alone. Period. Take them to dog day care while you are at work. Plan ahead and drop them off with friends or neighbors when you need to go out. Take them with you wherever you go. It is like having a toddler. You would never leave a small child home unattended either.
In the meantime and with the help of a competent trainer, you can work on creating a “safe zone.” It’s the dog’s favorite spot in the house where you can give them everything of value – food, treats, water, bones, toys, play music or a TV, etc. Acclimate them to being in that area while you’re home, not only when you leave. Gate them in that area while you are in the next room, cleaning the house, doing laundry, etc. Then begin to desensitize the dog to your routine of leaving the house – picking up your keys, putting on your coat, or grabbing your purse. Repeatedly act out those usual cues that indicate departure but then walk around and sit down again. Do that 30 times a day and then eventually build up to pretending to leave. Walk to the door then turn around. Next, build up slowly to stepping out the door and returning. Break everything down to individual steps and slowly build one step at a time.
Eventually you can try to leave very briefly just to walk to the mailbox and then maybe around the block. Set up video cameras or use a smartphone app to be able to watch your dog for signs of distress.
Again, do this with the help of a trainer. There are many books and videos available, and there are trainers who specialize in this subject. One resource is Malena DeMartini-Price. Read her book, Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs, or visit her website at: www.malenademartini.com
It is a long road and it’s not easy, but it will go a long way in helping your coveted pet and family member feel relaxed and loved.