Saturday, May 9, 2009

Separation Anxiety

Greyhound adoption has been exhausting lately. My volunteer job consists of following up with adopters soon after taking their new greyhound home. I have access to the adoption application so I can ask specifically about how the greyhound is doing and I try to solve problems before they escalate.

Southeastern Greyhound Adoption tries very hard to match the right dog with the right home. We provide our adopters with lots of advice and focus on preventing problems and getting off to a great start. We have a wonderful greyhound adoption manual. We temperament test each greyhound and try to answer four questions.

1. Does the greyhound need a fenced yard? Greyhounds that are shy, cautious, and easily frightened need the safety that a fenced yard provides.

2. Can the greyhound live in an apartment? Greyhounds that are quiet and love leash walking are perfect for apartment living.

3. Can the greyhound live with small children? This is generally a greyhound that is easy to handle, is not afraid of loud noises, very affectionate, and tends to get into your space.

4. Is the greyhound a high separation anxiety risk?

I have been pleased that adopters have been following the separation anxiety prevention guidelines and the results speak for themselves. However, for whatever reason, we suddenly are having a rash of separation anxiety problems. I do not know if adopters are to blame or if our latest greyhounds have been extra prone to the problem. Regardless, it is frustrating to deal with.

Folks need to remember that racing greyhounds have lived a life of routine. Every second of their day is determined by a person.... a person that divides his or her time amongst many other greyhounds. Life on the farm and at the track is mostly predictable, balanced, and stable.

When a greyhound is adopted and arrives home, its best to recreate routine and stability. I believe Cesar Milan has it right when he recommends exercise, discipline, and then affection... in that order. To prevent separation anxiety from starting, I suggest the following:

1. Spend time ignoring the dog. This is especially important for the greyhound that seeks attention frequently. Ignore demands for attention and save your affection for when the greyhound is calm and not asking for it.

2. If you take time off from work or you adopt your greyhound over the weekend, spend your time together ironically by practicing separation. If you plan to crate your greyhound, the worse thing you can do is allow your greyhound to have free range of your house all weekend long and then crate him or her for 8 hours on Monday. If during the week you will be gone to work for 8 hours, then practice crating over the weekend.

3. Generally, separation anxiety is worse in the first 30 minutes, so rather than practicing an 8 hour stretch over the weekend, practice numerous 30 - 60 minute sessions throughout the day.

4. Stuffed Kongs, bully sticks, and rawhide chips are excellent ways for you to make crating and separation rewarding and fun for the greyhound. I suggest having 2 or 3 Kongs for each dog (I have 12) so you can stuff several at a time. For a newbie to Kongs, keep it easy to extract the food, but as your greyhound gains experience start packing the food tighter and freeze it. I suggest stuffing Kongs with kibble and mix it with some creme cheese, peanut butter, canned pumpkin, yogurt, cottage cheese, and/or canned dog food so it sticks.

5. Lastly, have the right attitude. Even if you are unsure, never let your greyhound see you sweat. Handle your greyhound with confidence and pretend you know what you are doing. Act as if you own the place (because you probably do). Have expectations and enforce rules. Initially, its best if your new greyhound not sleep in your bed or cuddle on the couch. Don't allow him or her to follow you every where you go...... go to the bathroom alone.

Once the new greyhound demonstrates comfort with the new routine and easily follows the rules, you can start to love him or her like the pet you wanted.