Please don't leave me alone! (Or I'll eat the house...)
Like mini-missiles set to mangle, pets with separation anxiety take it out on every floor and piece of furniture in sight. Destruction, barking, whining, inappropriate elimination, excessive salivation—the clinical signs of this behavior disorder are irritating at best. (At worst, of course, some sweet pet loses a home and never gets a second chance.) Veterinary behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi offers these dos and don’ts to encouraging dogs’ self-reliance, which helps keep the anxiety in check. Ideally, saving the banister.
Have the owners ignore the dog upon arrival until he or she is relaxed. They shouldn’t interact with or even acknowledge the dog.
Don’t let owners further encourage the behavior any more, ever. Owners should not respond in any way to a pet’s attempts to get attention by such behaviors as barking, whining, jumping up and pawing. They should not look at, talk to or touch the dog when it is exhibiting these attention-seeking behaviors. Warn owners to expect the behavior to initially get worse and more physical.
Have the owners ignore the dog for 30 minutes before leaving the house to prevent inadvertent reinforcement of anxious behavior as they prepare to leave. About five to 10 minutes before departure, the owners can give a toy stuffed with a treat to distract the dog from the act of the owners departing from the home.
Don’t let punishment come into play. The owners should not use physical or verbal punishment in response to destructive behavior or elimination. These behaviors are clinical signs of anxiety, so punishment, especially after the fact, will increase the dog’s anxiety level.
Work with the owners regularly on appropriate behavior modification exercises involving indoor relaxation and graduated departures. Also prescribe anxiolytics as appropriate.
Encourage the owners to provide consistent exercise in the form of walks and play, which can reduce anxiety by decreasing the dog’s focus on the owner’s departure from home.