by Doris Donnerman
(last updated November 13, 2009)
Typically, most dogs can be left alone for some time, usually no more than eight hours, without exhibiting any troubling behavior. There are those dogs that do not handle being alone for any amount of time whatsoever, even if at one time they did. Coming home from a night out to having your house trashed is not an act of revenge by your pet. It is actually an action of panic that your pet is going through. Punishing Fluffy for being scared or tearing up your house will not help, either.
This panic can come from a variety of reasons or sources. Typically it is due to a traumatizing event in the dog's life. Such events can include spending time at a shelter or kennel, one of the family members leaving and not coming back (such as someone going to college, or someone leaving due to a divorce), or simply the pooch has gotten used to having everyone around because of a long trip such as a vacation. Dogs are social animals. This means that they will not handle being alone for long periods well.
Knowing what is causing your pet's behavior is only the first step in learning to deal with it, though. There are some things that you can do to change the troubling behavior exhibited by your dog. Most of these are going to fairly simple, if a bit repetitious.
Each time that you leave your home, use the same low-key actions. Do not make a big deal of your going out, or a production of coming home. This will help reassure the pet that you are predictable and not subject to change. Repeat this every time, otherwise the effect will be lost.
If this doesn't work, or your dog has a more severe case of separation anxiety, be prepared to practice small steps prior to the above. Use the same actions, but simply step outside the door for a moment or two, then come back inside. This will help your small friend make the cognitive leap in understanding that you will be coming back, and that you are not abandoning them.
This procedure will take time. A dog's separation anxiety is not something that will be cured overnight. Be prepared for up to three months of practice before Fluffy truly understands what you're trying to teach her. In the event that this does not take care of the problem though, meaning that there has not even been a small increment of improvement after about six weeks, you may want to consider a visit to the vet. The behavior may be indicative of another, more physical problem.
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