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Blue Bridge Dog Training Question & Answer Series
I adopted my dog, who I think is a little over a year old, from a shelter two months ago, and he has severe separation anxiety. I got him a ThunderShirt, and when I leave the house I try to keep him on a routine when I put him in his crate. The problem just seems to get worse though -- he's eaten through a crate, and the other day, he ate through the baseboard of my door trying to get out. Is there anything else I can do to alleviate his anxiety, other than being patient?
Separation anxiety is a problem where the severity can range from pacing, barking, and whining, to the destructive behavior you are experiencing. Unfortunately, there is no magic remedy for this problem. Patience is absolutely required, but would not help diminish the problem on its own.
First, rule out any medical problems by seeing your veterinarian. Then, I would suggest a couple of parallel paths to follow. On one path, determine at what point he starts to get anxious. Is it when you put on your coat? Putting your on shoes? Picking up your keys? Or is it when you merely start walking toward the door? Whatever it is, bring him to that point. Then not only stop, but go do something else with which he is familiar but not anxious. Repeat this many times over many days and he should gradually become desensitized to your departure cues.
On the second path, practice a down-stay (staying in one spot) with him. Begin with short distance/short duration and gradually increase the distance and duration. When he is comfortable with that, move to a hidden stay, again increasing distance and duration. Then repeat these steps for the wait command (not crossing a threshold).
Finally, the two paths will intersect when you practice the departure cue (he's now reasonably desensitized) combined with wait. Do this in a step-wise manner, moving toward the door, then eventually exiting the house for increasing periods of time. This systematic approach should help to reduce his anxiety.
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(This content was taken from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, "Ask A Trainer" column, published the last Saturday of each month in the 4Paws section.)
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