After common home several times to our bedding ripped to shreds, the rugs ripped away from the flooring, and our wood furniture literally transformed into toothpicks, our family decided to seek help for our American Pit Bull Terrier’s extreme separation anxiety. We consulted a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) to guide us in our journey to reducing this destructive behavior that our dog, Rufio, would engage in each time we left the house. Separation anxiety is a common behavior that many pet parents experience, but most are not aware of the seriousness of the issue. Their dogs may bark, chew, urinate, defecate, dig, or try to escape when left alone. These behaviors can be accompanied by drooling or anxiousness as the pet parents are getting ready to depart or as they return home. When treating a dog for separation anxiety, the goal is to treat the underlying anxiety issue. This is where the four step program comes into play.
Step One: Dealing with Predeparture Anxiety Issues
Many dogs that experience separation anxiety will begin to feel upset or anxious while you are getting ready to leave. As your dog watches you get dressed, apply makeup, slip on your boots, or put on your coat, he may begin to pant, whine, or pace the floor. To treat these predeparture anxiety problems, you will need to teach your dog that these actions do not always mean that you are going to leave. This will require the pet parents to perform these actions, such as slipping on your boots, and then not leaving the house. Pick up your keys and instead of leaving, sit at the kitchen table. After consistent training, your dog will begin to realize that these actions do not require him to become upset.
Step Two: Engage in Gradual Departures
Once your dog has reduced or eliminated his predeparture behaviors, pet parents can move on to performing gradual departures. This requires the dog to stand on one side of an inside door, such as in the bathroom, while the pet parent stands on the other side of the door. Teach your dog out-of-sight exercises, such as to sit or lay down while on the other side of the door. These exercises help your dog feel more confident that you are still there and will come back, reducing anxiety in the process. Repeat these exercises on a regular basis, gradually increasing the amount of time that you wait on the other side of the door.
Step Three: Reduce Contact While at Home
Many pet parents with dogs that have extreme cases of separation anxiety deal with their pets being underfoot at all times, jumping up, barking, and always being in the same room. To reduce anxiety while you are away, it’s important to provide some space between you and your pet while at home. Ignore attention-seeking behaviors such as barking or jumping up, while continuing to teach your dog good behaviors such as “Down!” Continue this practice until your dog is okay with spending time alone while at home.
Step Four: Practice and Reward for Good Behavior
When the dog becomes relaxed in situations that would have previously made him anxious, pet parents can begin to practice by leaving the house. Begin by simply stepping outside, shutting the door, and listening for their pet. Return to your home within 30 seconds, before your dog becomes anxious. Provide a tasty treat to reward your dog for his good behavior. Preferably one that will keep him busy while you are away, such as a Kong stuffed with peanut butter. Continue to extend the time that you leave, each time adding only 10 minutes to the time the dog is left alone.
With excessive obedience training, exercise, and guidance from a professional Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, a successful four step plan could be incorporated into our lifestyle to eliminate destructive behaviors caused by our American Pit Bull Terrier. In Rufio’s case, the four step program worked wonders and he no longer engages in the frustrating behaviors that once overwhelmed our lives.
The Human Society of the United States: Separation Anxiety
Help Your Dog Survive Being Alone, Without Destroying Your Home!