For the love of your pet
By John Beck
June 7, 2012 at 1:07 a.m.
Every time I leave the house, my dog starts crying. When I get home, she has usually spent her whole day scratching at the door or carpet. I sometimes even find my shoes or hairbrush chewed up. I provide her with all kinds of toys and leave the television on to keep her entertained. What's the deal?
I have heard this story over and over. It sounds like you are dealing with the typical case of separation anxiety. As the word pretty much describes, separation anxiety is when your pet gets anxious after being divided from certain people, places or things.
Pets usually spend their time trying to rid themselves of that anxiety while they are awaiting the return of their lost person, place or thing. Some pets will run a fence line the entire day, some will bark the whole time, others will chew or destroy items in or around them.
Desensitizing a pet to your leaving the house can sometimes be very helpful. You follow the same pattern leading up to your departure almost every time you leave the house. In the morning, you usually get up, make coffee, shower, dress, pick up your purse/computer bag, leave. Your pet is watching your every move. And for those pets who suffer from separation anxiety, every step you take builds more and more tension until you depart.
It's like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Switching the order in which you do things or changing your routine can help disrupt the building anxiety your pet is experiencing. Some experts suggest picking up your purse and keys then walking around the house and performing ordinary tasks. Even sitting on the couch or floor and petting your pet while holding your purse and keys is a good exercise.
When you finally do leave, return quickly. They expect that when you leave, you will be gone for a considerable amount of time. The first few minutes after you leave the house are usually the most productive (or destructive). Returning quickly will break that cycle. Doing this a couple of times will make your pet unsure about the timing of your return.
Another good tip for dealing with separation anxiety is minimizing your interaction with your pet during arrival and departure. A lot of people love all over and verbally reassure their animals when leaving the house. "I'll be back soon . Mommy loves you. Please be a good dog."
Then, when you get back to the house, you jump up and down with them, run to pick them up and start talking to them. "Mommy missed you. She didn't mean to be gone so long. I love you so much. Who's a good dog?"
The best thing to do is to quietly attempt to sneak out. If you can't sneak out, at least leave with your pet watching but don't make eye contact or pet the animal on the way out.
If these behavior activities don't seem to help, sometimes medication is needed. Your veterinarian can place your pet on anti-anxiety medication. They should not have to stay on this medication for longer than eight weeks.
During this time, your pet will learn that they don't have to be anxious when you aren't around. If you need more advice, please feel free to contact me.
Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.