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How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Your New Dog

There are some things you can do to avoid triggering separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety in dogs is a condition in which your canine companion suffers a full-blown panic attack every time you leave him. This can lead to extreme vocalization including howling, barking, and screaming. It is also common to find destruction to your home when you return. This damage typically occurs when your dog scratches or bites at or around doors and windows in an attempt to escape and find you. Defecation, urination, and vomiting in the house while alone are also signs of separation anxiety though they can be indications of other behavioral or medical problems as well.

For a thorough discussion of the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of canine separation anxiety, visit this article: "Separation Anxiety in Dogs."

While there are ingrained survival-related reasons as well as environmental triggers that cause dogs to be prone to separation anxiety, it may be surprising to you to learn that there are things that loving human caretakers do that also promote its development.

Warning Signs of Canine Separation Anxiety

First, here are some things to look for when you are choosing a new puppy or an older dog from a shelter. These behaviors may indicate that a particular individual is closer to developing separation anxiety than his companions:

  • Puppy becomes very anxious when removed from litter mates; cries and looks upset and tries to get back to them.
  • Dog seems to become extremely attached to you or someone with you in an inordinately short amount of time, becoming "clingy" right away.
  • After you've played a bit and bonded with a puppy or dog, leaving the room causes him to become upset and try to get to you.

Remember that, while these are some signs you can look for, not all dogs acting this way will develop separation anxiety, and not all dogs with separation anxiety will show these signs upon meeting them.

Steps to Avoid Triggering Separation Anxiety in Your New Dog

There are some critical things that you can do in the first week with your new dog that can help create an independent, relaxed atmosphere where he will feel comfortable about being left alone.

First, be sure that you don't give in to your desire to have your new pet on your lap, in your bed, and generally right with you every moment during his first few days at home. This doesn't mean that you should abandon him either. You should make sure to spend time playing, petting, and holding him; just not all the time.

If your dog is a puppy or a crate-trained adult, set up a safe, sturdy crate in a shared space like the living room, and make sure you put your new dog into it routinely. The crate should not be too large; just big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down. Learn how and why to use a crate for your dog in this article: "Crate Training."

Next, follow these steps to get your dog used to being independent:

  • Begin by putting your dog into his crate with a Kong Blue Toy. Sitting nearby, perform an activity that doesn't involve paying attention to him. You may read, do a crossword puzzle, or organize a shelf.

These training exercises are all best done after a 20-30 minute play session. You want to make sure that you are bonding with your dog and tiring him out so he will be content and satisfied when he goes into his crate.

  • After a short time (a minute or two is enough in the beginning), walk back to the crate, and give your dog calm praise or a treat if he is relaxed.
  • Walk away again, and repeat the previous two steps.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time that you are away before coming back to pay attention to your dog.
  • If your dog becomes anxious at any point, revert to the previous step, decreasing the time that you are away from him back to the point at which he stays calm. Proceed more gradually.
  • Resist the urge to stay with your new puppy or dog every minute during the first few days that he is with you. Don't keep him on your lap, in your bed, and by your side every moment during a long weekend or for several days that you've taken off of work. While you certainly need to play with him and spend time with him, be sure that you also allow your dog to be comfortable being alone to avoid triggering separation anxiety.

    Repeat the steps above until you can leave your dog in his crate while you do something else for 20-30 minutes without eliciting any anxious behavior from him.

  • Gradually increase the distance that you place between yourself and your dog's crate when you walk away to perform another task, until you can leave the room, then the house.
  • Slowly work your way up to being able to leave the house and stay gone for 30 minutes, returning to a calm, relaxed dog. The first 30 minutes alone are the hardest for a dog with separation anxiety, so if you can reach this point, you can feel fairly confident that you have conditioned him to tolerate your absence well.

It isn't possible to avoid the development of separation anxiety in all dogs. However, following these steps when you first acquire your new dog will allow you to ensure that you don't inadvertently trigger a case of it yourself.

You May Also Like These Articles:

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

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Crate Training

Destructive Chewing In Dogs

Benefits of Multiple Dog Households

Tips for the First Few Weeks with Multiple Dogs

Dog Training Tips: Using Treats Properly

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